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VINE VOICEon April 6, 2005
Elizabeth Berg is one of my most treasured writers since I read her first book Talk Before Sleep. Each time I am about to begin her newest book I wonder if I will enjoy it as much as the book before her last one or the book before that one and so on. And each time I am almost never disappointed because each book is filled with wonderful characters and emotional sagas written from the heart. And once again I have fallen in love not only with this writer but her latest book The Year of Pleasures which features a main character on the brink of a new change in her life.

Betta Nolan is a fifty something woman who up until her husband's death enjoyed a good life. Madly in love with her husband, Betta lives in Boston where she enjoys an almost solitary profession as a writer of children's books. Able to travel and enjoy the companionship of her husband, both she and her husband, who was a psychiatrist, never thought their time would be cut so short when he became terminally ill. With no children or relatives and few friends, it is as if they lived unto themselves in the world around them. But life stood in their way and when Betta's husband realizes she will live out her days without him, he urges her to strike out and make a new life for herself elsewhere. So when her husband dies, Betta honors her promise to him and does exactly what he urged her to do. Locking the door of her home, she sets out in her car to find a new place to live in and to grow as a woman alone but hopefully never lonely. And in the first year of widowhood, with some bumps along the way, this is exactly what Betta does finding not only a home but friends and a business which is an inspiration not only to her but to other woman in the area.

The Year of Pleasures is one of those books like Pull of the Moon which reached out to me, took hold of me while I was reading it and will remain with me always. The emotions of losing a beloved husband and lifestyle and how one reacts is surely different for every woman who unfortunately experiences this event. And for Betta perhaps even more since the death of her loved one came at a time when life was somewhat winding down and plans for their golden years together was just around the corner. Although Betta wonders as many others do if there is ever a good time to lose a mate?

At first Berg provides readers with all of the grief one must go through at this time and then slowly shows us how people in this position must grieve and then move on to give a new meaning and purpose to their lives. While I think that perhaps there was a bit of coincidence and unreality about some of the events -- would one really leave all that they know so quickly, in Berg's more than capable hands, readers are given an adventure in how to give meaning to one's life alone and feel good about the next stage of their life as well. And so Betta experiences a year of pleasures despite that the circumstances never suggested this is what it would be when her husband first died.

Many years ago, I read Widow by Lynn Caine which told the true story Caine's story of being a young woman left with two small children when her husband dies. And more recently this year I read Home Away from Home by Lorna J. Cook where a younger childless woman was suddenly widowed and found for almost a year that she couldn't sleep at the home she shared with her now deceased husband. While both of these books wee excellent and insightful reads, there are emotions and passages from The Year of Pleasures which truly gibes the reader an undeniable sense of what it must be like and feel like to be a widow.

The Year of Pleasures now takes its place among my very favorite reads by Elizabeth Berg, which include The Pull of the Moon, Durable Goods, Joy School, True to Form and The Art of Mending, With The Year of Pleasures it is as if Berg has gone full circle in describing the stages of a woman's life. One can only hold the breath to see what she will write about in her next book.

I urge you to read this book and see if you don't fall madly in love with this author. Read it and see if her characters don't become friends of yours that you worry about and wonder how life is treating them now. Most of all revel in the writing which may find tears in your eyes or a smile on your face.
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on June 27, 2005
I picked up this book because I, like the protagonist, lost my husband to cancer at 55. I guess I was expecting a story I could relate to. Instead, I found an oddly sugar-coated fantasy that left me feeling inadequate rather than nourished.

Within four months of her beloved husband's death, Betta had sold her Boston home for $1.9 million, serendipitously found and paid cash for another house she loved halfway across the country, been instantly befriended by people of all ages, summoned several long-neglected friends to her side, sailed with barely a ripple through her first holidays without her mate, whipped up countless elaborate meals, been interviewed on a radio program, started dating, and established the boutique of her dreams in the evidently WalMart-less town. By the same point in my own bereavement, I was still barely able to utter a coherent sentence, was subsisting on take-out food, and certainly was in no condition to purchase high-end real estate or start a business. In my experience, recovery from the loss of a spouse doesn't proceed so quickly or so sparklingly. I know widows' experiences vary greatly, but I've not yet heard the likes of this story in real life.
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on May 3, 2005
What a wonderfully written book, and near-perfect for anyone who suddenly finds herself past her 50th birthday and wondering what's next. While this tender novel is about dealing with grief and the loss of a beloved husband, it is also about change and reinventing yourself at midlife, no matter what your situation. It simply speaks volumes to anyone in this age group.

Elizabeth Berg is a sensitive and highly skilled writer who avoids falling prey to the ridiculous whims of commerical publishing. Berg refuses to season her story with gratuitous elements or outlandish situations. She relies instead on the poetry and gentle beauty of the ordinary. This is never easy to pull off in a novel -- yet this particular skill of Berg's brings true depth, intelligence, and a touch of domestic magic to "The Year of Pleasures."

After reading just a few pages of the novel, I found myself caring about the fate of the main character. It didn't take long for me to be pulled into her situation. I found myself asking, what would I do if I suddenly found myself in this character's shoes? Could I start over in a new place? I am so grateful that someone recommended this book, as I haven't had much luck finding a good novel centered around a middle-aged woman. I was very disappointed in the over-hyped "The Mermaid Chair," but this book rekindled my faith and made me grateful for Elizabeth Berg.
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on August 21, 2005
I thouroughly enjoyed Berg's books, Talk Before Sleep and Open House, but The Year of Pleasures proved to be a disappointment. On the plus side, it is a short, very quick read, and if you like fairy tales where there is no bad witch or evil stepmother, this is the book for you. Betta is a widow, and that is inherently sad, but I truly believed that her husband John was going to turn out to be a figment of her imagination. He was UNBELIEVABLY perfect, and when humans can be cloned, we need to clone this guy and make him available to every woman in America. He sends her flowers from the grave and leaves very poetic, sensitive life-affirming and very personal cryptic messages for Betta in a china chest they both adored. Actually, they adored everything about each other; they were apparently the Stepford Couple. Miraculously, Betta does not have to concern herself with money when she is widowed, so really, the sky is the limit, as far as the fulfillment of her dreams go. I think many widows could find the happiness Betta does if they had no money concerns, memories of a super-perfect marriage to keep them warm, thirty year old friendships that suddenly re-blossom and help to make your dreams come true. This novel is NOT about hope; it is about a highly unlikely and unrealistic scenario for a widow who had a faultless and loving marriage, no money concerns, and the unbelievably good luck to find a dream Victorian to live in in a small town where everyone seems to know your name. What are the chances that anyone other than Betta could have a Benny next door or a twenty year old good-looking handyman who is just itching to begin a close friendship with a fifty year old woman? What are the chances that a Tom Bartlett, a good-looking widower, would just pop into your life less than three months after the death of your spouse? I would think that widows would read this and wonder why their lives don't seem to be as picture perfect as Betta's, but then again, no one's life is as perfect as Betta's.
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VINE VOICEon August 30, 2005
I have to say I was disappointed with this latest book. I have enjoyed most of the author's past books but this one was so unrealistic. Looking at some of the unfavorable reviews, I have to agree with these folks.

The revived friendships from thirty years ago - oh please!

Sell your home and buy a new one with 1.6 million to spare!

Open up a shop in small town within a couple of months of your husband's death. (what are the statistics on the survival rate of these types of shops?)

All these very friendly people - it would have been more realistic if at least a few were like the mean old lady she purchased her home from.

The radio in the attic - stupid. What?? did an invalid climb into her attic sometime before she moved and plug a radio in to come on in the middle of the night only???

It goes on and on.
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on May 14, 2006
I picked this up because it was nice and short and I was between book club books. I ended up really enjoying this well crafted, beautifully descriptive novel. It starts out with Betta, a woman recently widowed, who fulfilling a promise to her dying husband, finds a simpler place to live. She finds a delightful home whose garden is in hibernation, as Betta herself is from the shock of bereavement. This novel deals with Betta's issues in her rebirth and journey to recovery from the loss of her husband. I loved the pictures which Elizabeth Berg painted in my mind. The book's title refers to a friend's advice to do one nice thing for herself each day. Take a bath, paint your toenails, eat chocolate cake for breakfast! I love the representations of friendship in this novel. Betta rekindles old friendships and gathers together new ones. It was a pleasure to read and I am recommending it to my reading group. Bonus: Author interview at the end and book group questions too. ")
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VINE VOICEon July 29, 2005
I have always loved Elizabeth Berg's books. She tells a story like no other author I have read. The simplest description is beautifully woven. The writing was still beautiful and it kept me interested, until all sorts of improbable scenarios kept popping up.

Betta recently lost her husband to cancer. She decides to leave their home in Boston, which has been recently sold, and move to a small town in the midwest. She has no money worries, since their home has been sold for 1.something million. She decides to take a year and grieve for her beautiful husband.

When Betta and John met, they needed no one else. She deserted her friends and spent her life with him. He was the perfect man, and I'm not exaggerating. The descriptions she wrote about him were unbelieveable. I'm sure that there are men out there that write cryptic one or two word messages for their wife after they die, but do they also hide gifts for them all over the house, including a jade necklace? Do they say, "Welcome to Tuesday, Betta," everyday with a greeting like that? Do they go to high school productions, and, after seeing that a girl does not receive flowers from her family, run out and buy some for her and say, "These are to express my admiration." ??? Maybe I'm just jaded. Or, maybe this was the beginning of the unrealitic events that took place within the book.

The ten year old boy comes over and hangs out with her a few times, asking a lot of questions. She makes dinner for him. All the while, the mom never comes over to meet her. Would you let your child hang out with some older woman you have never met? I'm sure people worry about their children and the company they keep, even in the midwest.

The strangest situation of all is that Betta befriends a man of 20, with a very mean girlfriend. Betta, who is in her 50's, goes to Matthews and Jovannis house to keep them company and make them dinner. Not only that, but Betta asks her friend to go on a double date with Matthew and his girlfriend, to make the girlfriend jealous. Apparently, his girlfriend is envious of beautiful older women.

Lastly, Betta deserted her friends 30 years ago. One day, out of the blue, she decides to reestablish their friendships. They welcome her back with open arms, no question.

I could go on. If one aspect of the book is unrealistic, I could overlook it. But, when everything seems so perfect time and time again, I begin to wonder where the conflict seems to lie. The only thing that saved it was Berg's writing. Her awe-inspring writing about small details will keep me as an admirer of her work.
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on February 20, 2006
I couldn't stop listening to this audio CD the way you can't look away from a car crash. Morbid curiosity. My eyes hurt from rolling so often at this jellyfish of a main character.

Betta is supposed to be portrayed as a fragile widow, but she just ends up looking incredibly self-absorbed and weak, weak, weak. I can't reconcile her weeping over the perfect husband every five minutes with her late-night behavior with Tom Bartlett. It just wasn't believable.

Elizabeth Berg has created such real characters, such as Samantha from "Open House" and Myra from "Never Change." Their lives were believable, funny, and wistful at the same time. I can't understand how Betta Nolan was created by the same author.

The character of her husband was so non-believable that I don't know where to start. "Welcome to Tuesday, Betta"?????

And P.S., many women living in small factory towns in the Midwest can ill-afford cashmere robes, fountain pens, silk pajamas and bird's nests.
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on April 13, 2005
Betta and John had the perfect marriage. They were so involved in each others day to day lives
that they rarely had the time for anyone else. They dreamed of leaving Boston and starting over in the midwest by opening up a little store but their plans changed when John was diagnosed with cancer. Before John passed away, he convinced Betta that she should follow through on their plans and make the move. He believed that she would be stong enough to keep living.

Shortly after Johns death, Betta did just as he wished by getting in her car and driving. Following the country back roads, she ended up stopping in a small town outside of Chicago that felt right to her. Betta found a house, and slowly started making new friends and also reconnected with three lost friends from her college days.

The Year of Pleasures is more than a book about the death of a spouse, it is about the life that we must learn to live afterwards. It is about doing one thing each day that brings you happiness instead of dwelling on grief.

Elizabeth Berg has written some wonderful books like The Art of Mending and True to Form but in my honest opinion, I think this is her best one to date. It is so heartfelt and Betta is so endearing. I will give you a warning though, I got misty eyed a few times by reading this one so have a tissue or two ready.
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on December 6, 2007
What person affter 30 years of her husband doing everything goes up to the first house in the first town she stopped at and knows nothing about, and buys it, full price, after 10 minutes of looking?

The worst was when she phoned a friend after not speaking for 30 years and just reaquainting themselves after 2 short visits "I've got a favor. I want you to take the weekend off, fly down here, and make the girlfriend of a new friend jealous." These women are 50 years old! And then the way she treats that friend when she gets along with Tom. Practically throwing her out of the house.

What a totally selfish woman. Unbelievable.

The other worst was after only months after her absolute perfect husband died she is throwing herself at another man to have sex with him. If she her husband loved him as much as we are led to believe ... There is no way.

I guess there are lots of worst things. Like her relationship with 10! year old Benny who has girlfriend troubles. Benny's mother lets him stay at Betta's house until 9:00 and she hasn't even met him.

Blah BLah Blah. You feel insulted and stupid reading this book. "the things that bring me comfort now are too small to list (but she lists them anyway)... "raspeberries in cream. Sparrows with cocked heads. Shadows of bare limbs..." PLeeeeeeeeeeze!
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