When I was contacted by Heather Wardell and asked to review her new novel, “Planning to Live”, I was a bit skeptical. It’s very tempting to agree to every request you get from authors to review their books. One of the best pieces of advice I got when starting this blog was – don’t be afraid to say no. Being stuck reading a book that you very clearly are not going to like is a tortuous proposition. Still, being new to the review space, I don’t like to turn down opportunities, so I went over to Heather’s website to check out her writing.
Right away, I thought that I was in trouble. Her site touts her writing as “Women’s Fiction with Depth, Humor, and Heart”. If I know one thing about myself, it’s that I am not a woman. Having already been duped in to reading a romance novel earlier this year (see my review of The Game), I was cautious. Then I thought for a moment and I realized that I actually do appreciate humor and, ostensibly, have a heart. Maybe two out of three was enough to get me through the book. The brief synopsis Heather had sent me was intriguing, so I downloaded the sample chapter and dove it. I’m glad I did.
“Planning to Live” is a simple concept, leading to the exploration of complex emotions. While driving home from her parents’ home on Christmas, Rhiannon Taylor loses control of her car in the snow and crashes into a tree. The book opens as she is first regaining consciousness in the car. She quickly realizes that her leg is trapped and she cannot get free from the car. Her cell phone is out of reach – all she can get to is her laptop.
As the reality of the situation starts to sink in with Rhiannon, she starts to think back over recent events in her life. She is a woman who has struggled with her work/life balance as much as she has struggled with her weight over the years. The death of her fiancé Bill a few years earlier drove her deeper into her job as a game developer, even as she pulled away from those around her.
Rhiannon is a meticulous planner by nature, and not quick to open up to relationships. Despite that, she met Andrew through her job and developed feelings for him. She and Andrew had to work at coming together as a couple, and Rhiannon struggled a bit with accepting the love that Andrew was freely giving her. As she replays the beginnings of their relationship in her mind, we begin to understand the roots of her problems and, along with Rhiannon, also begin to understand the real beauty that she possesses.
As the evening wears on, Rhiannon begins to realize that she might not escape from the car and decides to leave messages for her loved ones on her laptop – just in case. Through these messages and the memories that they bring up, Rhiannon is able to take stock of her life, understand what’s really important, and come to a sense of peace with herself. At the end of the story…well, just go read it for yourself and see how it ends. You didn’t think I would actually spell it all out, did you?
I enjoyed this book far more that I anticipated. First – I loved the central premise of the story. What would you do if you where trapped, with little hope of escape – but with the means to leave a message for your loved ones? Who would you leave a message for? What would you say? That’s a powerful question with real world possibilities. On September 11th, many of the passengers on the flights that crashed into the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, knew what was going on. Some had the chance to call loved ones – most famously Todd Beamer. In a situation like that, what would you say? More importantly – would you find that you had lived your life in such a way that you could say what you needed to, leaving no regrets, in a minute of two? It’s something to consider.
The second reason I really liked this book was the understanding that Rhiannon comes to in the car – don’t forget to live your life. As I mentioned, she is a planner. She had everything mapped out for herself – where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. But – in the end – she had to take a hard look at what that planning had gotten her. She says in one of the messages she leaves:
All my planning documents show what I want to have done, but they don’t touch on how I want to be while doing those things, or on who I want to be. I had my life planned to perfection, but I forgot to actually live it.
The best plans in the world won’t amount to anything if you don’t live the life you are given. You can’t spend so much time figuring out where to go that you forget to appreciate where you are.
“Planning to Live” is a book well worth reading. As Heather’s website promised, it dealt with issues from a woman’s perspective, had a large dose of humor, and took aim squarely at the heart. Is it a perfect book? No. But then again – what book is? What is important is that it really spoke to me. It made me think, and – in the end – it made me care about what happened to Rhiannon.
In one of the messages she leaves for her friends and family, Rhiannon says -
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” People say it all the time and don’t think about it. Well, think. Forget about the destination, just for a second (and I know this is hard, but do it anyhow) – are you enjoying your journey?
Make sure you do. Because right now, I’m not thinking about my deadlines at work or how many minutes I clocked on the treadmill this week. I’m thinking about you guys. You’re all part of my journey, just like I’m part of yours. We’re so interconnected and it’s important to really live.
It’s great advice. Rhiannon was lucky (if you can use that word in this situation). I’m a procrastinator by nature, but this book reminded me that some things really can’t wait until the last moment. Rhiannon didn’t appreciate the journey until the very end, but she was afforded the chance to examine her life and say some of the things she had put off over the years. Are you confident that you will have the same opportunity, when the time comes? For me, waiting to find out seems like a big chance to take. Go live your life; say the things that need to be said. Life’s too short to wait until tomorrow.
You can read the first chapter of “Planning to Live” for free on Heather’s webiste – www.heatherwardell.com.
*A copy of this book was provided to thewordzombie.com by the author for the purpose of this review
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