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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful
Good Grief belongs to a sub-sub-genre of women's fiction. Likeable woman faces crisis. Discovers herself through transforming domestic, warm-and-fuzzy talents into a commercial enterprise. And, if single, she gets a romantic interest as a bonus.
As it happens, I rather like this sub-sub genre. And Lolly Winston gives us a heroine who's likeable and intelligent. She adds an edge by giving us a blow-by-blow account of a year in the life of a grieving widow. In this case, the grief seems especially painful because Sophie, the heroine, is young, and because she lost her own mother at a very young age.
Sophie's grief seems like a blanket someone has thrown over her life, stifling her energy. Like most employers, Sophie's company allots a limited time for grieving. After that, Sophie is supposed to be a cheerful PR person, extolling the virtues of some deeply flawed medical product.
Just as she hits bottom in her career, an old friend invites Sophie to move from California's Silicon Valley to Ashland, Oregon. And Sophie's new life begins.
Sophie finds a charming rental cottage and a job in a restaurant, where she gets downgraded from waitress to salad prep and then to pastry, where she finds her true niche. She begins to study baking in earnest and, along the way, finds a new love and a new career.
Of course, it's not quite that easy. Sophie becomes a Big Sister (the reasons are a little value and I'm surprised she was accepted, given her grief-stricken state). Her Little Sister, Crystal, isn't the cuddly eight-year-old she expected, but a tough-talking teen with a ditzy mom and potentially serious problems. Some of Sophie's descents into grief can be hard to read, despite a comedic element. Sophie's opening party pushes the envelope when anything that can go wrong does go wrong.
In the end Sophie emerges as a strong heroine, although some elements of the happy ending owe more to luck than to Sophie's efforts. As a career coach, I wish these authors wouldn't make starting a business seem so effortless. But I have to say that most career transformations happen just this way: putting one foot in front of the other, remaining open to new options, and being willing to follow your passion to see where it leads.
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43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2004
What an unusual premise for a sweet little romance to take off from: our heroine is in her thirties, recently widowed after only a few years of marriage. It's difficult to make profound grief funny, but Lolly Winston manages it in spades. There's an especially funny scene in which Winston keeps the point of view and voice and tone that of Sophie, her grieving narrator, while she's coming completely unglued (showing up for work in her bathrobe and slippers, scarfing down carbs and sweets - hot dog buns with honey! - and talking in gibberish). In writerly terms, this is called Your Basic Crazy Unreliable Narrator, but Winston holds it together just long enough for the poor woman to be packed off to a shrink.
Somewhere between quitting her job and being fired, she takes a leave of absence in the interest of mental health, treks off to pretty Ashland, Oregon, and begins, improbably, to try patching herself together by becoming a volunteer Big Sister to a very angry pyromaniac teenage girl - not the most sensible choice, but what the hay: it's a romance novel, after all.
And, right on cue, in comes Mr. Wonderful.
Happy ending, eventually, of course. Lots of improbable stuff along the way, but this book is so well written and handles the vagaries of grief so well that you've gotta love it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 7, 2004
This wonderful book was able to make me laugh and cry almost at the same time. I could not put this book down and constantly felt a part of Sophie's life. Winston takes you through Sophie's every thought and emotion. Without missing a beat she manages to take the story of a widow starting over to a deep yet very entertaining place. I could not help but laugh out loud when Sophie proclaims:
"I will marry again. I'll marry my Santa Fe neighbor, a beautiful man with skin the color of strong tea and coarse black hair. He will not get sick or break my heart. He will not leave me for a red-haired actress. In fact, he will only have one leg. I'll keep his artificial leg on my side of the bed while we sleep at night, so that he will have to get past me if he wants to leave."
Sophie's new relationships are fascinating and we are instantly drawn in by crystal's character and her relationship with Sophie. I am not exaggerating when I say not only do I want to tell ALL of my friends and family about this book, but I also want to read it again. This will be on the best sellers list in no time!!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2006
Well, you know the phrase, "leave them wanting more". Lolly Winston did. (WHEN is that next book available?) I wanted to know how the rest of the character's lives panned out, and wanted another book by the same author the minute I was done with the first. Lolly took a subject that our culture finds difficult to discuss, talks about it openly and honestly, and pokes some fun at it along the way. Her characters are flawed and complex, as is her portrayal of grief. My favorite character was Crystal. As a mom of two teenage girls, I wonder if Lolly has spent the last year doing research in a high school - even the teenage vernacular is right on the money! Couldn't put it down, and I can't wait for the next book. Keep 'em coming!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2007
I get so excited when I see a book where the main character has the flaws we can all relate to. She's an emotional wreck, struggles with her weight, her frizzy hair, her overwhelming thankless job. But - and here be the spoilers!! - I get so disgusted when, time and time again, these characters make an impossible transition, discovering some amazing talent they never knew they had. From being an incompetent waitress to a fabulous pastry chef, from the frizzy hair to the silky ringlets, finding the perfect man who's hopelessly in love with her, and transforming a cutting arsonist into a well-rounded teenager. All this and so much more - within a year. It's not even believable.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 14, 2004
Good Grief is one of those rare novels that sincerely makes you both laugh and cry, sometimes within the space of a few pages. Sophie Stanton married late (at 33), and had just begun to become accustomed to married terms--my husband, us, and we--when her husband died of Hodgkin's disease before their fourth anniversary.
The story follows Sophie through the stages of grief, including a heartbreakingly funny scene where Sophie shows up at a job she hates wearing her robe, slippers, and unwashed hair. Deciding that a change in geography will help her, Sophie moves from California to Oregon, where her best friend lives. In Oregon, Sophie starts piecing together a new life for herself by renting a house, volunteering to be a Big Sister, babysitting for her friend, and finding a new career as a baker. Sophie also meets, dates, breaks up, and reunites with a man while her former mother-in-law slips into Alzheimer's disease.
What is unique about Good Grief is not the story line--as other reviewer have mentioned, this novel is probably borderline "chick lit." Good Grief is very well written, empathetic, and deals with issues head on instead of relying on contrived solutions to come to a happy ending. I would strongly recommend this book!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2005
I struggled to figure out the appropriate star for this book. I, like a few other reviewers, feel that the book is unbalanced. The begining starts off intriguing and is laced with black comedic moments. Then Sophie Stanton moves to Ashland and it becomes a different book entirely--yet it's still entertaining.

There are actual scenes in this book that I read in two other chick-lit novels. I probably should research to see if these writers enrolled in the same creative writing class. Despite that flaw-the book was entertaining.

I had problems with how some issues were dealt with- Crystal for one thing. It's as if Sophie took the stance of 'if she wants to cut herself-fine. If she wants to sit a hot kettle on her leg-fine.'

What help did she get this little girl? Heck, she didn't even discourage the girl from smoking. 'just don't do it the house'??? The girl was thirteen!! Surely a widow of cancer-would take a firmer stance on an underage girl puffing on cancer sticks.

I agree the time line of Sophie launching into a new business-is laughable. That must have been one hell of a bakery class she took. And how did she get the mayor to attend an opening again? From what was written--she didn't know that many people--but hundreds of people showed up at the opening???

Drew--how much money does an actor at a festival makes anyway??? And he's forty-? He didn't act forty--he seemed like he should be dating Crystal.

I kept forgetting who Gloria was.

By the end of the book, did she stop attending the grief group?

When Marion developed Alzheimer's--I had to duck from the author throwing the kitchen sink at me. This serious disease was reduced to a laugh track. Alzheimer's consumes families. It's a scary, exhausting disease, but Sophie handles it with ease, while effortlessly balancing a start up business--something else that consumes people--especially the first year.

Bottom line--Sophie is amazing--She can handle grief, take on a troubled teenager, start up a company of which she has no experience in (I need to get the name of that loan officer), take care of an Alzheimer patient, babysit for her best friend, befriend homeless people, and STILL have time for a love life.

I can't do two of those things successful at a time without suffering from daily migraines.

Women who inspire to be like this character-crash and burn within the first month, get strung out of anti-depressants, and are yelled at by Tom Cruise.

Still--I was entertained. Go figure.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2004
Sophie Stanton wants to be a "Jackie Kennedy kind of widow. Slim and composed, elegant and graceful." She does a decent job of it until three months after her husband's death when she drives her car through the garage door ... twice. As her grief and despair drag her down in their undertow, she becomes more of a "Jack Daniels kind of widow --- wailing in the supermarket and mowing through the salad bar, hair all crazy like an unmade bed."
Married for only three years, Sophie is a widow at thirty-six, having lost her husband to cancer. She sits in a lonely house with a leak she doesn't know to fix. Her job is a joke, with the boss from hell. Her only family lives three thousand miles away from her Silicon Valley home, where she moved to be with her husband.
As she works her way through the stages of grief --- denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance --- Sophie adds a few of her own: eating an entire family pack of Oreos in one sitting under the bedcovers, having a breakdown in the produce section of the grocery store, and going to work in her bathrobe and pink bunny slippers.
Unable to stand her empty house any longer, Sophie decides to start over in Ashland, Oregon, where her best friend Ruth lives. She toasts her decision with a martini that she drinks from the empty urn that once held Ethan's ashes. "I drink my martini from the urn, its square edge sharp against my lips. Everything in the room begins to soften, and moving up to Oregon doesn't seem so scary." This is a chance for her to be "Sophie Enid Stanton: widow. Starting over."
She can't outrun her grief, but in Ashland Sophie finds that there is "solace in offering solace to others." She applies to the Big Sister program, and instead of the adorable seven- or eight-year-old she had envisioned, her "little sister" is Crystal, a thirteen-year-old with more problems that Sophie. Crystal lives with her indifferent single mother, struggles in school and has a dangerous fascination with fire.
Things continue not go smoothly as Sophie take a job as a waitress in a local restaurant. After a series of mishaps, she is relocated from the dining room to the kitchen --- a blessing in disguise because she's soon creating and preparing desserts and enjoying it --- an experience that leads her to open her own bakery.
Her love life is slower in coming around than her professional life, as the handsome actor she meets just might be too good to be true. After all, she reasons, he must harbor a "dark, psycho-killer secret because everyone knows all the nice, smart, normal men are married. Only the trolls are left."
A novel about a woman coping with grief might seem off-putting, but not in Lolly Winston's hands. Sophie's circumstances are the catalyst for the unfolding of the story, and Winston combines emotion and humor to create a poignant tale that will draw you in from the first page.
GOOD GRIEF is a story about love, loss, friendship, courage, and most of all, renewal. In the end, Jackie Kennedy or Jack Daniels, Sophie realizes it doesn't matter. Her life is no longer defined by being a widow.
--- Reviewed by Shannon McKenna
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2005
There are many books out there that are written about grief and loss that border on being completely morose. This book is not one of those. The main character, Sophie Stanton invited us into the mess of her life shortly after she lost her husband, Ethan to Cancer. Sophie instantly became my friend. She is a very strong woman and she became very real for me from the very beginning. I felt her pain as she suffers panic attacks and can't make it through the grocery store. I cry for her when she shows up for work in her bathrobe in the midst of a nervous breakdown and I feel exalted when, she has gone through all the stages of grief and discovers that people need her again and that she can be successful again. This is a very well-crafted novel, even the ending was well thought out. It was neither too sappy, nor to harsh or too sad. It's hard to believe that it is a first novel for this author. I am anxiously awaiting other books by this talented new writer
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2004
This book will make you laugh, cry, and sometimes both at once. A very well told story about what life is like after a loved one has passed. You watch as Sophie grieves, loses her job, deals with her mother in law, and packs up and moves to start a new life without her husband Ethan. Life was supposed to get better for her when she decided to stay with her best friend, Ruth and when things don't seem as they can get any worse, they do. She decides to participate in a big brother/big sister program and instead of getting a cute four year old to paint and draw her pictures she gets stuck with a 13 yearold delinquent. Watch as Sophie cares and helps the young girl get her life straightened out and along the way she straightens her own life out. A very powerful and moving novel for when you feel like there's nothing left.
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