When the air clears over a failed marriage

"Just Breathe" - Susan Wiggs

Mira - 473 pages - $24.95

I can't help but like Bainbridge Island writer Susan Wiggs. Just go to her blog,, to see what I mean: The lady promotes her friends' books, speaks out against seal hunts and urges girls of all ages to see "Mamma Mia!"

If only the heroine in her latest romance novel were as fun as her creator!

"Just Breathe" features Sarah Moon, a 20-something, Chicago-based comic strip illustrator who is married to a handsome real estate developer.

On the surface, everything is picture perfect, but Sarah's husband Jack recently has come through a terrifying bout with cancer and now Sarah is undergoing monthly attempts at artificial insemination hoping that she and Jack still can have a family. The experience is painful and she deals with it by having her comic strip alter ego endure the same procedure.

But when Sarah discovers that Jack is having an affair, she draws a new kind of line. Stunned that he would betray her, especially after her fidelity through his illness and infertility, she leaves Chicago and heads back to the place she grew up, a small coastal town in Northern California.

Sick at heart and sick to her stomach, Sarah tries to heal in a place where she had been the high school misfit.

She engages a divorce lawyer who happens to be the sister of her high school crush. Back in the day, Will Bonner had never paid much attention to her. But now, as the single stepfather of a teenage girl and the captain of the local fire department, he is more attentive - especially when she nearly collapses in his stepdaughter's company and he has to rush Sarah to the local hospital.

It turns out that the last fertility treatment Sarah had undergone before leaving Chicago was the one that took. She is pregnant. With twins.

The question then follows: When her ex shows up on her doorstep with newfound remorse, will Sarah take him back?

Wiggs has done a terrific job of plotting and a good job of setting the scene.

But the character development is awry in some places. When Sarah leaves Chicago, she leaves behind no friends of her own. Although she has been a relative cipher up until that point, she is surprisingly assertive in the office of her powerhouse attorney. On the other hand, she accepts blame too readily for the failure of her marriage. (On this point, "Just Breathe" made me want to hold my breath instead - to avoid the toxic whiff of subservience - particularly given Jack's consistently boorish behavior.)

And that's another problem: While Jack's difficult back-story is convincing, he is drawn as a stick figure in the story at hand - spiteful and quick to anger.

The publisher, too, should be chided for failing to provide a good copy editor. Among other flubs, a current U.S. senator's name is misspelled.

"Just Breathe" is an engaging enough read, but with a little more care, it might have been even more inspiring.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at

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