I moved to Wisconsin from Washington DC just over twelve years ago now, and have now lived in my lovely Madison home longer than any other address, aside from the house I grew up in.
When we were preparing to move, I remember some DC acquaintances giving me the same look I often get when I tell people I read romance novels. You know the one, right? Why don’t you read real books? Only this time, it was, You live in DC. Why in the world would you want to move to Wisconsin???
People who live in Wisconsin understand its charm. The state’s natural beauty is stunning. Madison is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever seen, with a downtown that straddles two lakes and a state capitol that rivals (and is fashioned after) the one in DC. Milwaukee is a Midwestern big city, with a fresh, friendly vibe and tons hidden treasures I still haven’t completely mined yet.
But I’ll tell you one of the reasons I decided to explore Milwaukee (which is about 90 minutes away from me): Author Amy E. Reichert
Last week Reichert released her fourth novel, The Optimist’s Guide To Letting Go.
Amy is one of my favorite authors for many reasons. She’s funny, creates great characters, writes unique books, and explores life challenges from a broad spectrum of perspectives. Plus she sets all of her books mainly in Wisconsin. Kirkus enjoyed the book, which it called “A delicious read full of family and food.” (Full review here.)
The Optimist’s Guide To Letting Go
Gina Zoberski wants to make it through one day without her fastidious mother Lorraine cataloguing all her faults, and her sullen teenage daughter May snubbing her. Too bad there's no chance of that. Her relentlessly sunny disposition annoys them both, no matter how hard she tries. Instead, Gina finds order and comfort in obsessive list-making and her work at Grilled G's, the gourmet grilled cheese food truck built by her late husband. But when Lorraine suffers a sudden stroke, Gina stumbles upon a family secret Lorraine's kept hidden for 40 years. In the face of her mother's failing health and her daughter's rebellion, this optimist might find that piecing together the truth is the push she needs to let go…
This is a departure for Reichert, and once again, her women’s fiction shares elements of what’s very popular right now, but in her own distinct way.
The Optimist’s Guide uses a dual time line, but the past narrative happens in the early 1970s, when Lorraine has married the love of her life in defiance of her parents. She has a young daughter and another on the way when she receives tragic news and must adjust her life plans. Fast forward fifty years and her daughter Gina has also married the love of her life, and is also a widow. When Lorraine suffers a stroke, her daughters will discover a life-changing secret that may give them the courage they need to move forward in their own lives.
It’s a lovely exploration of life, love and loss, examined through the filter of two middle aged sisters, a teen daughter who is floundering and the family’s matriarch who is revisiting some major choices she’s made without the ability to explain to her daughters why she made them, and why she never told them.
It’s a terrific book, as are all of Reichert’s titles, and I highly recommend her.
My favorite may still be her first, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake (Kirkus review here), though I love them all. I first took notice of this author because Coconut Cake takes place in Milwaukee, and is a love story that features a fantastic cook who loses her restaurant thanks to one bad day and the restaurant critic who writes a scathing review that tanks her business. Then they meet at a bar and begin to date. He realizes who she is, but doesn’t find the courage to tell her, even though he’s falling in love with her and knows if she finds out, she may never forgive him. However, the way they fall in love is that she offers to show the recently transplanted writer (who is rather vague about what he actually writes) around his new home city. And then Reichert, through the eyes of the characters, seduces us into falling in love with Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Her 2017 release, The Simplicity Of Cider, was set in an apple orchard in Door County (and Optimist’s Guide has a tiny allusion to the cider in its pages, which is a fun, subtle wink to her fans who will get the reference.)
I originally came to Reichert for the Wisconsin bits. But I come back every year for her wit, wisdom and great writing. I hope you decide to discover her, if you haven’t already. You won’t be disappointed.
What are you reading this week? Any writers or books that come to mind that bring specific places to life for you?