REVIEW: A Different Kind of Forever by Dee Ernst
Dear Ms. Ernst,
Once upon a time, in a seedy bar, many years ago, I met a man, fell for him on the spot, married him, and decades later count myself lucky to have and hold him as my own. And yet, as I read your book, the wonderful A Different Kind of Forever, I found myself wondering, what if my life had turned out differently. What if I were divorced, trying to raise my kids as a single mom, loving my work, surrounded by great friends, but, romantically, sexually, alone? If I were, if I had that life instead of the one I do, I pray to the gods I, like your forty-five year old divorced heroine Diane Matthews, would have the great good fortune to one day, walking in the park, meet twenty-six year old Michael Carlucci.
Michael isn’t just any twenty-six year old. He’s “Mickey Flynn” the creative genius behind and the keyboard player in one of the world’s most successful bands, NinetySeven. He and his band have come back to their home town to play the last concert of their current tour. A few weeks before the concert, he’s walking his dog Max in the park and Max, who has a serious obsession with pastrami, smells the sandwich Diane is eating and begins dashing toward her. Diane, standing on the picnic table she’s jumped up on, decides her lunch isn’t worth being tackled by a very large dog, and gives Max her sandwich just as Michael finally catches up with his marauding pet.
Diane stared at the animal in amazement, then turned as the owner came running up to her. He was completely winded, gasping, bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.
“I’m so sorry,” he panted. “But my dog really loves pastrami.”
Diane stared at him. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The owner of the dog nodded his head. “Oh, I know,” he gulped. “It’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever had to say.”
Diane began to laugh, a tickle that began in her throat and bubbled up. She felt tears streaming from her eyes. No one would ever believe this. The owner started to laugh with her. He seemed very young, dark hair cut short and as he lifted his smiling face, she saw startling blue eyes, an angular jaw. Suddenly, she stopped laughing
“Oh, my God. I know you.”
He was still breathing heavily. “I’m Michael Carlucci, and this is Max.” The dog had finished and was sitting quietly at his master’s feet. Michael gazed up at her. “I’m very sorry. Can I help you down?”
“Oh. Yes, please.” She felt suddenly awkward, and reached down to take his hand. She climbed down off the table carefully, her skirt riding to mid-thigh, heels unsteady on the grass. They were suddenly eye to eye. He was not much taller than her, slim, in a white polo shirt tucked into faded jeans, a thin belt around his waist. His arms and hands were beautiful, she noticed, sculpted and strong-looking.
““I’m sorry,” she said, smoothing her skirt. “I thought you were somebody else. You look just like Mickey Flynn.”
He grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, that’s me. Michael Flynn Carlucci. I was named for my Irish grandfather.”
“I thought it was you. There’s a life sized poster of you in my daughters’ bedroom.
Diane is the mother of three daughters. While the eldest, Rachel, has outgrown her obsession with NinetySeven, her younger two, Emily and Morgan, ages fourteen and sixteen, have not. Michael, as a peace offering for his dog’s thieving behavior, offers Diane free tickets to the concert, and, after talking with her for a few minutes, asks if he can buy her lunch. At lunch, he throws in backstage passes as well. Diane isn’t sure he’s serious, but sure enough, the next day, a large envelope arrives at her house with eight VIP tickets to the show. Then, that night, Michael calls her and asks her out to dinner. Diane, nervous but attracted, agrees to meet him but doesn’t tell anyone she’s going out with him.
The date though, is perfect. Michael tells Diane his life story, she tells him hers, they drink, laugh, and, when Michael walks her to her car, he kisses her until she can’t breathe and tells her he wants to see her again. They agree to meet backstage after his concert this coming Friday night. Diane, her friend, and their daughters go to hear the band—Diane isn’t sure what to expect. She hasn’t been to a concert in years and all week she’s thought about Michael, his kiss, his smile, and how much she’s wanted to see him again. The concert is great—Diane is astonished at how talented Michael is. As the music winds down, Michael comes out onto the stage—it’s a band tradition: at the end of each show he tells a story. This night, he tells the story of meeting Diane,
“So, last week, I’m back home and I figure I’ll take Max out to Bloomfield Park. I got the Frisbee, I got tennis balls, we’re ready for anything, you know? So, we’re on the ball field, the park is practically empty, we’re having this great old time, and suddenly the wind shifts. Max freezes, and takes off like a shot and I know, man, I just know.” He paused and dropped his voice. “Shhhiiiit. It’s pastrami.”
Diane sank lower into her seat as Sue hit her excitedly on the arm.
“So Max is flying, and I am pounding after him, and there’s one, lone woman, sitting at a picnic table, eating a sandwich.” Laughter. “I yell, ‘he wants your sandwich’, and the woman jumps up on the picnic table, and she sticks out her hand and Max leaps like a gazelle, gets the sandwich, and it’s gone .” The audience started to clap and cheer. Michael was shaking his head, one hand on his hip. “So I’m looking up at this woman.” He got in closer to the mike, and dropped his voice again. “Sensational legs.” Diane glanced over at Emily, who was open-mouthed. “And this great tattoo right above her ankle.”
The crowd roared and hooted. Diane felt the blood drumming in her ears.
“Since she didn’t say anything about suing me,” Michael went on, “I bought her lunch and invited her to the show.” He shaded his eyes and looked down at them. “Are you girls having a good time?”
Megan, Emily and all their friends shrieked and waved excitedly. Michael nodded.
“Good.” He turned to the stage hand that had walked onstage with another microphone and an acoustic guitar. “Thanks, man.” He slipped the guitar strap over his shoulder and adjusted the mike.
“Now I’m going to tell you all about my sisters. I have three, all older, and they were all into music, and I spent my whole childhood sneaking into one of their rooms, and listening to whatever they were listening to. That’s how I began to love music. That’s when I decided to make it a part of my life.”
His voice had dropped, grown softer, and Diane could feel everyone leaning in, straining to hear.
“When I was five, I started taking piano lessons, because everyone in my house took piano lessons. But I wanted to play guitar. Angela, my youngest sister, was taking guitar lessons. I made a deal with my Dad that I’d go to my piano lesson like a good little boy, if I could also go with Angela. So she took me along with her, I’d sit in the corner and listen, then we’d go home and practice together, and that’s how I learned to play the guitar. Angela had this big, old Lennon-McCartney songbook, and we learned every song.” The crowd burst into applause. As they quieted, he went on.
“My sisters all loved the Beatles, especially Paul. I would play and they would sing along. And that is just about as perfect a memory you could have.” He had been looking down as he spoke, his hands folded over the curve of the guitar. He suddenly lifted his eyes and his smile went out across the audience. “I had forgotten. Diane with the sexy tattoo reminded me. I want to thank her for that. So this song is for the Carlucci girls, who are responsible for so many of the good things in my life.”
He began to play ‘And I Love Her.’
Michael, you see, fell in love with Diane the moment he met her. He believes there is one true love out there for each of us and, for him, he’s sure Diane is his. He woos her with everything he has.
Diane though is, well, forty-five. She’s been married—is happily divorced– and has been in love once since her marriage broke up—he was married, so, despite believing she’d found her true love, she wouldn’t get involved with him. She thinks Michael is wonderful but damn, he’s young. And she has her daughters to think about—she’s afraid to tell them about Michael, fearing somehow, they will see his youth and fame as inappropriate for her. And, in fact, the first time the two come close to making love, not only is Diane overwhelmed, she is horrified to be interrupted by her eldest daughter Rachel who bitterly points out Diane is old enough to be Michael’s mother.
But Michael doesn’t give up and slowly but surely pulls Diane into his arms and then his life. The latter is made easier by the fact Rachel is living in the City for the summer and Megan and Emily are spending the summer on the Long Island Shore with their father and his new wife and baby. They spend almost every day and night together. Diane, an academic and a playwright, is putting the final touches on a play that will be opening in the fall. Michael is working on an incredibly challenging project—the score for a movie being made by one of England’s most famously difficult directors. When not working, they make love—God, Diane loves making love with Michael—sail, visit with his friends and family, and, in general live each day to the fullest.
But when the summer comes to an end, the ease with which Diane and Michael have been together unravels. Michael must go to London to work; Diane’s daughters, who, with exception of Rachel, know nothing about Diane’s relationship with Michael, return home; and, most challengingly for Michael, Quinn, the married man Diane once loved is now divorced and is back in town while Michael, lonely and unsure of Diane’s feelings for him, is a continent away from the woman he loves.
So many things in this book worked for me. I liked the way the jobs Diane, Michael, and others do in A Different Kind of Forever is portrayed. The creative work Diane and Michael do is wholly believable as is the context that work exists in. It was interesting to see Diane as both an academic and as a writer. She’s good at both professions, both require different skill sets, and both are shown in realistic detail. The entire context of this book–the neighborhoods Diane and Michael live in, the meals they share with others, even the way the weather is described–seemed credibly genuine. The world you’ve written is the world many of us live in–full of laundry, bills, swing-sets, arguments, and traffic.
The novel is filled with characters, all of whom have parts to play in the story, and are convincingly and compassionately rendered. Diane has complex relationships with her daughters, especially her middle child, Emily. Emily’s anger and hurtfulness is written realistically–and plays beautifully into Diane’s concerns about the choices Diane is struggling between. Diane’s friends and co-workers are also well-done–I was impressed with your ability to write different voices all of which are original and fully formed.
Most importantly, Michael and Diane are remarkably real people. I’ve read countless contemporaries with famous, sexy young men—rock stars, athletes, bazillionaires–Michael is one of the most genuine. He’s a man–a young man–first, a musician second, and, several steps down the list, a rock star. His love for Diane seems impossibly idealistic and yet authentic. He’s fallen in love for the first time in his life—his joy and hope are breathtaking… and somewhat unbelievable to Diane. As she points out to him, their life together, were they to make a permanent life together, faces all sorts of pitfalls.
Diane’s fears, of course, aren’t unfounded, and that’s one of the very best things about this book. For Diane to partner with Michael, she has to believe not only in his love for her but in herself. We live in a culture where beauty, youth, and wealth are prized over their counterparts. Michael will always have more of all of those coveted assets than will Diane. She likes herself and yet, at one point, she hies herself off for a full spa makeover because, as she tells one of her best friends,
“A couple of nights ago, Michael and I went to the movies, and afterwards, I went to the bathroom, and you know how those lines are, so I was in there for a while, and when I came out, this incredible girl was talking to Michael. Sharon, she was gorgeous, legs up to her neck, boobs out to there, swinging all this long hair around. I just looked at her and felt, well, old and run-down. So I figured I’d treat myself to a little sprucing up.” “Shit.” Sharon said angrily. “You look fantastic, Diane.” Diane looked at her friend. “I know I do. I think I look great for my age. But I’m still forty-five, you know? My boobs sag, I’ve got those great little lines around my eyes, my jaw line is soft and puffy, not to mention the gray hair.” Sharon snorted. “Now wait. Your hair always looks terrific. I haven’t seen gray on your head in a long time.” Diane made a face. “I’m not talking about the hair on my head,” she said wryly. Sharon sighed. “Oh, that gray hair. Yeah, that really sucks.”
Yep, it does.
I don’t know if this book would resonate with younger women in the way that it did with me. If you’ve never, in an irate moment, seen age as just giving you more to shave, perhaps Diane’s fears might seem overblown. After all, she’s got a gorgeous, sweetheart of a man who loves her and has the sexual stamina of a twenty-six year old. But Diane’s fears and doubts are portrayed so well, so realistically that, honestly, I wasn’t sure how the book would end. But as I turned the pages, reading late in to the night, I hoped that Michael and his conviction of true love, would be stronger than Diane’s fears. I give it a B.
I don’t know if I’d love the book, but I love this review. Thank you, Dabney.
Can. Not. Wait. to read this book. Thank you, Dabney, for such a fabulous review. I’m bouncing this one right up to the top of my TBR stack!
Loved this review, loved the sound of this book, thought my patrons would love it too — and when I went to order it, found it was self-published through Amazon, and only available through them. :-(
The good Lord knows that there are LOTS of terrific, high-quality self-published books these days, and the focus of this blog is NOT to serve the library market; but a hint upfront in this review (or subsequent reviews of similarly published and marketed titles) would be gratefully appreciated. Mine cannot be the only public library that can’t order these materials.
Oh well, I do thank you for providing the “self-published” tags. If nothing else, this will help me in compiling lists of all the great books my patrons are missing out on, and maybe help the PTB figure out a way to get us access.
Loved the review. Enough to click the link & buy it. Crossing my fingers…
nice to see a good review of an indy book!
Apparently this is only available from Amazon, which is really a shame. I want to read it, but I don’t have a kindle and I’m not interested in trying to read books on my phone. :/
This review was so thoughtful and complete – it made my whole day. I’m thrilled at everyone’s response – but don’t give up because it’s an ebook. You can buy a paperback at Amazon as well. I can’t tell you the trouble I went through to get this formatted etc. at CreateSpace, but I wanted everyone – not just those Kindle-folk – to have a chance to read it if they wanted. I’m a book person. And the copy of this book is on my shelves, not on a Kindle. I’m just grateful that self-publishing gave me a chance to do what I’ve always wanted – write.
Great review, Dabney. I’m not much of a fan of older-woman/younger-man romances OR romances featuring celebrities of any stripe, but you make this book sound really intriguing. I may have to try it.
@Jennie: I loved this book. And here’s the thing. It’s not really a romance about an older woman/younger man. It’s a tale about love. The ages of the characters are really significant, don’t get me wrong. But it’s really a book about trusting love and your heart.
Oh! This book is $2.99!! Sold ;-) Great review. I really like the premise, just having a forty-five year old heroine is enough to make me want to read it. Heroines that are older than thirty-five are so unusual, heroes as well, but heroines in particular. Thanks for the recommendation.
@hapax – that’s a good point and generally we try not to review books that are exclusive to Amazon only. It may be that we need to institute a policy that we’ll only review books that are available to epub and kindle readers.
@Jane: So a book would have to available in someplace other than just Amazon for us to review it?
@dabney – maybe. It’s something to consider. At least 25% of the digital readership would not be able to purchase this book and read it on their device.
This reminds me of one of my favorite early romance novels, Family Blessings by Lavyrle Spencer. I think I might have to give it a try. Thanks for the review.
I am in favour of only reviewing books that are widely available. I am quite tired of email conversations with authors that suggest because it is on Amazon everyone automatically has access to an ebook. Outside America there is a whispernet fee added to the book price and kindles are not always available. I own an e-ink reader because I want to read on it and not my phone or PC. So pretty please with cherries on top, think about epub as well.
This sounds great. There is a HEA/HFN at the end though isn’t there? I wasn’t 100% sure from the penultimate sentence of the review…
Luckily I have a kindle and I also have the tools to convert mobi to ePub so I can go shopping soon. :)
@Dabney. Just as well, cause I bought it already. :) thx.
Thank you for this review–I read it last night and it was a great book! I enjoyed it so much!
@Kim: I’m glad you liked it. It really worked for me. I’m going to read her other book next.
Though I tend to stay away from older women/younger men books because so many focus solely on the heroine’s angst over aging looks, I’m excited to read this one and just bought it.
By the way: this is the 14th book I’ve purchased this year because I liked the DA review. Thank you for turning me on to some incredible authors and some very fine books.
I just finished this one today at lunch. Like you, Dabney, it really worked for me. A few things were perhaps a bit too “easy”, but overall, I found the tension to be well written, and I really liked both leads. You wrote a really beautiful review that does tribute to a sweet book that might no go as recognized as it could.
@Kati: I think his family was a little too perfect and the resolution with Quinn a bit too smooth. Still, I believed in the story in a way I often don’t in contemporary romance.
I read this last night and enjoyed it quite a bit. The only thing I found really hard to believe was that Diane’s teenage daughters favorite band was a rock band that played covers of CCR, Springsteen, and old blues songs. The type of music described really sounded like it would appeal to an older crowd and not be the favorite band of a bunch of screaming teenagers.
@rachel: I could see the band thing because the band was the local guys made good. They also did originals.
Kids today also have been exposed to all those covers through Glee. It amazes me what my kids listen to, all sung by the Glee bunch.
I don’t think you should stop reviewing books that are only available on Amazon. I may not have a Kindle, but I think that good books should be reviewed no matter what. However, a tag that the book is Kindle only or a comment in the early in the review would be helpful.
I am so bummed. As a nook owner, I am starting to feel very unloved. I want to buy this so badly. I don’t like the kdp program & I am frustrated by authors who don’t make nook/epub available. This was a great review & I so wish I could read it.
You can use Calibre (http://manual.calibre-ebook.com) to convert ebooks from one format to another. So you can buy Amazon books and convert them for reading on your Nook. Another option is to download the free Kindle app and read the book on your computer or other device.
I agree with Rebecca — please don’t stop reviewing books because they are only available on Amazon. As Jill notes, those of us (in the US at least) who have epub readers do have options for reading these books on our devices. Some may prefer not to go to that much effort to get the book, but I think it far better to let them make that choice than to take the option away from all of us.
Dabney, I don’t know why but this review was a delight to read. Perhaps because it was heart-felt or…. I don’t know. But thank you. Your review made me feel quite happy.
Now I’m going to go buy this book.
@Lori: Thank you. The book made me happy. I love my life, but it’s filled with kids, family, work, trash, traffic, bad TV and sunscreen that make me itch. This book, which had all those sorts of things, felt like home to me in some way contemporary romances rarely do.
I was thrilled to see this review because I read this book last month and loved it. I, too, am “of that age” and this book really resonated with me. Sure, it was total wish-fulfillment and Michael was almost too yummy to be true, but hey, that’s why we read romance, right? I also found the younger man/older woman trope in this book to ring true. Michael lost his mother at an early age and was raised in large part by his older sisters. He clearly admires and loves them, therefore, it seemed reasonable to me that he wouldn’t have a problem with Diane’s age.
Just wanted to add that after I read this, I picked up Dee’s other book, Better Off Without Him, and loved it too. What I especially loved was that the protagonist, Mona, was a strong, sensible woman. When her husband walks out, she doesn’t sit around crying and whining, she picks herself up and just tries to go on the best she can. Again, the characters were sometimes a bit too perfect, but it was smooth, easy read, and well worth the time.
Dabney, you and I might as well just trade wish lists and TBR piles. I think we are pretty much on the exact same reading wavelength, LOL.
I read Better Off Without Him and I agree–another good read and very funny. I’m not a big fan of books written in first person, but it didn’t bother me much in this one. And the portrayal of the teenagers in both books…spot on!
In A Different Kind of Forever I liked the description of Michael by one of his sisters as “an old soul”, which also makes his attraction to Diane (along with the awesome older sisters) understandable.
I feel a bit churlish saying this, since I think this review seems to do a good job of summing up the characters and the appeal of the novel overall. But (and this is something I often think about the reviews here) it gives away too much of the plot for my preference.
I love the premise, and I was thinking this might be one to buy. But as the review kept telling me more of the story, I started thinking, “I’m not sure I will buy it now, because I know so much of what happens.”
I want a review to sketch out the general premise of a novel and some of the early developments. But after that I just want to know about the characters and the emotional qualities of their romance, as well as the skill of the writer in telling the story and conveying the characters’ feelings. I don’t want to know to know too much of the story.
@Nicole: I think that’s totally fair. I try and not reveal more than what happens in the first half of the novel, but I can see that even that much is a lot. I’ll give your input thought and be perhaps more circumspect in my next reviews.
@Dabney: I’m glad you’re not offended. I suppose readers’ taste in reviews will differ like their taste in books, but when I became a regular visitor to this site I found that the reviews gave more of a plot summary that I was used to.
I think Nicole is correct in different tastes. I can get a general plot summary from the back of the book or goodreads. I like the more in depth reviews with some excerpts so I can get more of a feel for the book.
I guess this is the idea of getting the sample of the ebook. But that is only the beginning and often a book will peter out. I think it is easier to skip reading too long reviews than not have them when you want them. I know many people, especially those who hate any hint of a spoiler, will just look at the grade given by trusted reviewers and come back for the whole review once they have read the book to compare experiences.
I wanted to thank you Dabney for writing this review. I bought this book and read it yesterday. I really like it and even though I found the age difference to be a little unbelievable, Ms. Ernst is a good author and she made it work….great characters and an interesting story! Again, thanks, this is a book that I would most likely never read without this review.
I read this book based on the review, and loved it so much, I’ve just finished her other book. Just wanted to add, I don’t have a kindle – I read books on my computer and on my tablet.
I hope you don’t embargo reviews of books just because they are only available from, say Amazon, because otherwise I might miss out on great books like these!
@Des Livres: Did you like her other book? I haven’t managed to find the time to read it yet!
@Des Livres @Dabney I’ve bought this one but haven’t read it yet. I read on Amazon that her other book is more “women’s fiction” (whatever that means – it always sounds vaguely patronising to me) than romance. So, I’d be interested to know how romantic the other book is too.
After reading this one, I bought her other book, Better Off Without Him, although I was a bit worried because I don’t usually like to read women’s fiction (and yes, I hate that label also). As it turned out, I worried needlessly, because I loved that one also. Again, there’s a fair amount of wish fulfillment, but I really enjoyed the story and it was smoothly written. The characters were enjoyable and easy to root for. There was plenty of romance and a very yummy guy (a plumber) in it, although it was not a romance per se. I would definitely recommend it. My beef with most “women’s fiction” (and literary fiction for that matter) is that it’s usually depressing and lots of bad things happen. This was much more breezy and a “happy” read, if that makes any sense.
@JenM: Have you read “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton? It was my favorite Women’s Fiction in recent years. Bad things do happen, but so do good and the ending is lovely.
I have not read The Forgotten Garden. I’ve been on a romance and UF kick for the last few years, but my reading interests do tend to shift abruptly so maybe it will appeal to me at a later date. Either that, or my book club will pick it, and then I’ll have to read it. The length is also a bit off-putting, although one of the reviews compared its structure to AS Byatt’s Posession, and I loved that book.
I love The Forgotten Garden–it is long but it tells three generationally linked stories beautifully. It’s so different than Posession–also one of my favorite books. The former is a lighter read, although it’s not a airy book. Also, there is tragedy in both books, but the ending in TFG is a happier one, I think.