Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Helen of Pasadena by Lian Dolan

Book description:
Helen Fairchild is leading a privileged Pasadena existence: married to a pillar of the community; raising a water polo-playing son destined for the most select high school; volunteering her time on the most fashionable committees. It only bothers Helen a tiny bit the she has never quite fit in with the proper Pasadena crowd, never finished that graduate degree in Classics, and never had that second baby. But the rigid rules of society in Pasadena appeal to Helen, the daughter of Oregon "fiber artists," even if she'll never be on the inside. And then along comes a Rose Parade float, killing her philandering husband and leaving Helen broke, out of her "forever' house and scrambling to salvage her once-rarefied existence.

Enter Dr. Patrick O'Neill, noted archaeologist, excavator of Troy and wearer of nubby sweaters. A job as Dr. O'Neill's research assistant is the lifeline Helen needs to reinvent herself, both personally and professionally. Ancient mysteries to solve! Charity events to plan! School admissions advisors to charm! If Helen wasn't so distracted by her incredibly attractive boss, she might be able to pull off this new life.

Helen's world widens to include a Hollywood star, a local gossip columnist, an old college nemesis, a high-powered Neutron Mom, an unforgiving school headmistress , the best Armenian real state agent in the biz, and, of course, the intriguing Patrick O'Neill. While uncovering secrets about ancient Troy alongside her archaeologist boss, Helen discovers something much more: a new sense of self and a new love.

When Helen's husband is killed in a run-in with a parade float, she faces a new reality as a single mother forced to sell her home and look for a job, all the while trying to cope with the loss of everything she thought she knew about her life and her marriage.

Though the plot sounds like a standard chicklit offering, this book manages to steer a course as straight fiction. Helen is a wonderful character- well written and easy to relate to as a reader. She manages her situation as best she can and her evolving feelings seem to be reasonable developments rather than just plot points to move the story forward. The relationships in the book between friends and family are well drawn; for example, what appear to be stereotypical relationships between Helen and her in-laws actually unfold in unexpected and delightful ways. The romatic relationship was the weakest in the book in my opinion- hence the 4.5 stars rather than 5.

All in all a great read likely to appeal to a wide range of readers because of the quality of the prose. A great book to fill a few winter afternoons.

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