Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Series: Blackberry Island #4
Published by Mira on February 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
New York Times
bestselling author of
comes an all new original Blackberry Island novel told with Susan Mallery's trademark humor and charm.
Sisters by Choice
is a heartfelt tale of love, family and the friendships that see us through.
Cousins by chance, sisters by choice...
After her cat toy empire goes up in flames, Sophie Lane returns to Blackberry Island, determined to rebuild. Until small-town life reveals a big problem: she can't grow unless she learns to let go. If Sophie relaxes her grip even a little, she might lose everything. Or she might finally be free to reach for the happiness and love that have eluded her for so long.
Kristine has become defined by her relationship to others. She's a wife, a mom. As much as she adores her husband and sons, she wants something for herself--a sweet little bakery just off the waterfront. She knew changing the rules wouldn't be easy, but she never imagined she might have to choose between her marriage and her dreams.
Like the mainland on the horizon, Heather's goals seem beyond her grasp. Every time she manages to save for college, her mother has another crisis. Can she break free, or will she be trapped in this tiny life forever?
I picked this book because I generally enjoy Susan Mallery’s explorations of small-town sisterhood, whether those sisters are by blood or by choice. In this particular story it’s a little bit of both. And I also chose it because I was part of an Excerpt Tour for the book a couple of weeks ago, and the teaser was more than enough to make me want to read the story!
I’d say this was a story about three women whose lives have gone off the rails, but that’s not quite right. As the story opens Sophie’s life has just gone spectacularly off the rails – and up in flames. Kristine’s life is about to go off the rails, and she just doesn’t know it yet. Heather’s life, however, has never been ON the rails, so it can’t actually go off those rails. The issue in Heather’s life is that she has been letting someone else drive her train and it’s not working for her. It’s doubtful if it’s even working for them.
Sophie, Kristine and Heather are cousins who all grew up in the little town of Blackberry Island. Sophie and Kristine grew up together, but Heather is kind of a half-generation behind them. Her mother was closer to Sophie and Kristine in age, but much further from them in spirit.
The three are also at different points in their lives when everything goes completely pear-shaped. Sophie’s business empire has just gone up in flames, Kristine’s marriage runs into tsunami-sized waves and Heather is just plain drowning.
In a strange way, all of their troubles end up wrapped around the issue of control. Sophie, restarting from scratch, doesn’t want to acknowledge that she cannot do every single job in her business and still lead and grow the business. She has to learn to let go enough to trust people to do their jobs, and to trust that people who promise to be there for her will be.
Kristine, on the other hand, in the course of her 16-year marriage has ceded all control to her husband. He gets everything he wants, and she gives in whenever there is any conflict between them. But now that their three sons are growing up, she knows it’s time for her to finally reach for some dreams of her own, a bakery business that she has planned for years but the time has never been right to execute – until now. Only to have the entire thing explode in her face when her husband turns Neanderthal and leaves rather than let her have anything of her own.
Meanwhile, Heather feels trapped. She’s 20 years old and working 4 jobs to support herself and her mother. Her mother isn’t even 40 year, perfectly healthy and refuses to either hold down a job or even begin to see that mooching off her daughter and being completely unwilling to lift a finger to do anything except spend more money is only working for her. But then, Amber twists every situation to make herself the victim. In order to save herself, Heather needs to bring her courage to the sticking point and just leave – before she ends up just like her mother.
The fire at Sophie’s business brings Sophie back home to start again. Her return to Blackberry Island sets events in motion. Where all three women will be in terms of their lives, their personal relationships and their relationship with each other by the time that Sophie is back on her feet provides the tension through the entire book.
It is terrific watching them all find their way – especially because the ways that they are all different pull them together.
Escape Rating B: Reading Sisters by Choice felt a bit like watching three snowballs roll down the hill, picking up speed, along with plenty of grass and twigs, as they go. And then, at the halfway point, one by one those snowballs start to brake. Until they each suddenly get a grip on their trajectory, and somehow learn to ski like an Olympic gold medal contender.
The first half of this book was a hard read. I felt for all of the characters and all of their lives are going to hell in a handcart in ways that felt very familiar. I wanted them all to get better, but I didn’t enjoy suffering through their pain. And it was extremely painful.
Heather’s situation was the hardest. She’s in so deep, and there’s just no hope. Her mother is not going to change and the situation is not going to get better. Heather’s only choices are leaving and drowning, and we’re not sure until near the end which she is going to choose. (Someone I know had a mother just like hers, and there are just no other options. You can only save yourself because the other person does not want to be saved and doesn’t even see the need to be saved. They’re doing just fine because you’re doing all the work and they’re perfectly happy with that arrangement no matter how much they complain.)
Kristine’s situation felt equally awful. She wants to open a bakery. She’s been selling baked goods for years, every weekend, to the tourist venues around town, and she has all the business she can handle without professional sized ovens and equipment. Her sons are all between 10 and 14, so while they still need her, they don’t NEED her the way they did when they were all under 5. But when her husband refuses to even listen to her, let alone support her dreams the way she’s always supported his, she is forced to acknowledge that she’s always been the one to give in and she just can’t anymore. Marriage is supposed to be 50/50, but she’s been giving both 50s for way too long. But standing up for herself is hard. Necessary, but damn difficult every step of the way.
Sophie has the easiest time, and it’s still difficult. But most of her wounds feel self-inflicted. She’s a control freak who can’t let go – and she needs to. But it’s a hard lesson. In the end, it feels like she learns more from the two pregnant cats – and their kittens – that she fosters than she does from any of the humans who keep trying to tell her that she can’t and shouldn’t do it all. And that’s OK. Part of Sophie’s frenetic pace is to keep her from grieving for the cat who saw her through college and was the foundation of her business. It takes Lily and Mrs. Bennett to clue her in that life goes on, even after a loss, or two, or all ten of their kittens off to furever homes.
In the end, these three women build a stronger relationship with each other and find their completely different versions of happy. Heather spreads her wings towards college and freedom. Kristine and her husband repair their marriage on a more equal footing. And Sophie, along with Lily and Mrs. Bennett, make their home with a man who loves them as they are and has no intention of changing them.
And that’s just the way it should be.
The beginning of this one was rough, but the way it turned around at the halfway makes me want to go back and read the previous books in the series, starting with Barefoot Season. The next time I want to spend some quality time in a lovely place with interesting people and just the right amount of drama and romance!