Protagonist Tessa learns the highs and lows of love, a teaching career and living in different parts of the world in this dispassionate novel, set from the 1940s through about 1980.
The book opens with a 12-year-old Tessa learning from her mother how to read tea leaves. From there, Tessa shares incidents with family and friends during her life as a teen and through college. After an intimate encounter leaves her pregnant, she marries and has two children, but soon divorces her drunkard husband. Eventually, she meets Walter, the divorced father of a former student. They fall instantly in love and marry quickly because the oil man’s job requires him to travel abroad frequently for long time periods.
Tessa follows Walter to new places, experiencing Malta, Spain and Italy’s wonders, as well as numerous intriguing and exasperating people. As a pastime, Tessa reads her friends’ tea leaves for entertainment, predicting vague upcoming changes in their lives with the help of her spirit guides.
While author Patricia Gruenwald provides some detail in regard to Tessa’s adventures, her writing offers little of the enticement or intriguing situations through foreshadowing that would draw readers forward. Often, despite the inclusion of dialogue, the book reads as if drawn directly from a journal or letters. Regarding one town she visits, for example, she notes, “Of course we were there in the early ’70s and much has changed since then.”
To her credit, the author offers some engaging description and history on places such as Malta. Yet the book is emotionally thin, making it hard for the reader to form any deep attachment to the characters’ plights.
In short, this unmoving, weak story needs a major overhaul for it to appeal to readers (aside from perhaps family if the details actually are a reflection of the author’s own life).
Also available in hardcover and ebook.