Once again taking place in Milwaukee, this is the story of MJ and Chris Boudreaux, married for 20 years. Two teenagers, a pretty good life, and not really too much to complain about for MJ. Except her husband misses their anniversary lunch (he's 3 hours late), which forces MJ to drink too many cocktails, and eat the entire lemon pie she had the chef make from Chris' recipe. The lemon pie is special; the night MJ and Chris met, back in college, he served her a piece of his lemon pie. It's his special dish, and has a lot of meaning for the two of them.
MJ is feeling a distance between her and Chris, so she decides to take up playing poker, in an attempt to spend time with Chris (who was playing poker, and missed their lunch). She once spent time playing poker with the regulars while working at her mom's bar as a teen, and vaguely remembers enjoying it.
MJ's plan backfires, though, when she's seated at a different table then Chris. How are they supposed to spend time together when they're not even at the same poker table? But, MJ finds herself thoroughly enjoying playing poker; watching the players, figuring out their games, and learning when to bluff and when to fold. She gets very good at it, and spends more and more time playing poker at the casino instead of running her home. The distance between her and Chris widens.
MJ wins a trip to Las Vegas, to play in a poker tournament. She's hoping Chris will come along with her, but he turns her down. She's crushed, so she takes her friend Lisa instead. For the first time in her marriage, she's doing what she wants instead of what everyone else expects her to do.
Once in Las Vegas, things take an unexpected turn for MJ, as she catches the eye of Doyle, the famous poker player who is there to give lessons to the tournament players. His obvious flirting is making MJ a bit flustered, and getting attention from a handsome man can lead to disaster if she doesn't play her cards right (see what I did there?).
This novel is about the growing pains of marriage; not the newly married and getting used to each other marriage, but the marriage that has been together for a long time. That time when you look up, and realize years have gone by, and you haven't taken care of your marriage. How do you fix it? Do you even try? How do you recapture that spark that brought you and your partner together in the first place? MJ and Chris are at a crossroads they never saw coming.
This is the first novel in a long time that I've read where an active marriage is at the heart of the plot. It was refreshing to read about what happens after a couple has built a life together, and how that is sustained and nurtured--or not. It is the little things that bond us, and make that relationship strong, and help us weather the not so pleasant times. I also realized that I will never be a poker player. Amy explains poker pretty well, and it's nice to see MJ go from a novice to someone who masters the game through practice and natural talent. I can see the allure of it all. But I'll stick to penny slots.
Rating: 7/10 for a different take on examining a marriage; the addition of poker gives it an interesting, fun twist. I didn't feel I got to know Chris as well as I'd liked; MJ was well developed and very likeable.
Available in paperback and e-book.