The power of story in a song + “The Year We Turned Forty” by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

Last night I was lucky enough to go see Garth Brooks. It was a wonderful concert, and I was brought to tears a number of times, with memory or emotion, or both.

This morning a friend on Facebook announced that Garth Brooks sucks, and I started questioning my visceral reaction to his music, questioning what was wrong with me.

I hate it when people decide that their subjective opinion is over-riding, and I let it affect me!  It’s music. Like literature, you don’t have to like it all to realize its value. What moves me may not move you, but the fact that it moves a large portion of people should make it mean something.

If you can’t see that, you’re the worst kind of elitist.

I really don’t think he meant it that way, just spouting his opinion on Facebook. But those words made me think about why his songs moved me, and why other, similar songs moved me in similar ways.

It’s the story! It’s why I love older country music, and ballads, and Taylor Swift.

I like a song that can tell me a story from beginning to end.  I’m a word junky, and the lyrics mean just as much to me as the music.

It’s why I fell in love with Garth Brooks, and Trisha Yearwood, and others of that generation. It’s why, after more than 20 years, the music can throw me back to that time in a heartbeat.

Words move me.

I grew up with country music: the music of ‘outlaw’ country. Willie and Waylon. Merle. Johnny Cash. Hank Williams Jr. Jessi Colter. Emmylou Harris. Most of their songs told stories and evoked emotion. The natural progression of that into my 20’s was Garth Brooks.

Sitting at that show last night I thought of my life when I listened to that time. I remembered how his music, and other music, moved me at certain points in my life.

It’s the words!!!

I also saw many people that had been moved by his music through the years. He’s a natural performer, and draws the crowd into his act. His songs have given people strength when they needed it, and made them believe they were strong when they didn’t think they had any strength left.

For me, it was “The River” and “Unanswered Prayers.” It was, especially, “Meet Your Mom.” It’s the words in those songs that trigger so much emotion.

Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love With the Boy” reminded me of why I fell in love with the name Katie, and one of the factors that led to the name Katy for my younger daughter (the spelling itself has a special meaning as well).

It’s why I love songs like “Raspberry Beret” and “Little Red Corvette,” both songs that tell me a story (I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince this weekend, and he was a storyteller and a wonderful musician). It’s probably why I liked Prince more than many other of that ilk and time. He could play, he could sing, he could tell me a story.

The words. The lyrics. The stories.

So, my music code has been cracked. Thanks to that statement by my friend,  I’ve pinpointed why I love Garth Brooks, along with other musical storytellers.

It makes so much more sense to me now. Maybe those people just don’t appreciate a good story!

So, now you know my musical code. Onto my review of The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke.


This book will be released on Tuesday, April 26th. That’s tomorrow, folks!

If you could redo one year of your life, what year would you choose? And what would you do differently? Would it change your life? Would you take that chance? 

The Premise

Jessie, Gabriela, and Claire have been best friends since college. As they turn 50, all three have major upheavals and disappointments in their lives, most centering around the year they turned 40.

As the girls get read to leave for Las Vegas for their 50th birthday celebration, Jessie learns that her ex-husband is getting remarried. He had been the love of her life, but they grew apart, and she had a very short fling, resulting in her having another man’s baby, a boy names Lucas,  the day after their 40th birthday celebration. She told him immediately after the birth, and he left, unable to recover from the betrayal.

At 50, Gabriela is an extremely successful author with one regret. After years of tell her family, especially her husband, that she did not want children, the sight of baby Lucas just after her 40th birthday makes her realize that maybe she does want a baby. But, when she tells her husband, he has changed his mind. The ensuing fight forces her to put her anger and passion into writing, creating a best seller that propels her to a much higher level. But she still regrets that she has no child.

Claire is a single mother whose life is pretty much on track. She’s a successful realtor who finally has a good relationship with her daughter. She’s engaged to a man who she thinks she loves. Looking back to 40, though, Claire knows in her heart that she should not have spoiled her daughter so much, creating a monster she lost the love of her life over, a monster that is just settling into life. Claire also regrets not spending more time with her mother, who died of lung cancer. But she’s not sure that going back would change anything.

While in Vegas, the three women are treated to tickets to see a famous magician, thanks to Gabriela’s fame. He invites them backstage, telling them that he can take them back to the year they turned 40, giving them a chance to live that year over. After a year, they will have the choice to stay or come back. But all three have to agree on their choices.

The three women go back, making different choices this time. But will it make a difference?

Jessie decides not to tell her husband that Lucas is not his, working on showing her husband how much she loves him and their life. But that decision has consequences, as she finds out.

Gabriela decides to fight for the child she wants, convincing her husband to have a child. All her focus goes into fertility treatments, and her writing suffers, along with her marriage. Was it worth it?

Claire knows that this is her chance with her mother AND her daughter. Forcing her mother to go to the doctor sooner for her nagging cough, Claire hopes that the cancer can be caught sooner, giving her mother a chance at life. Spending her time caring for her mother gives her a chance to show her daughter what compassion looks like, teaching her daughter about love. But this choice has consequences as well, and a truth she never imagined comes to light. Will it be better or worse for her daughter and their relationship?

And, more importantly, will they stay in the past, reliving those ten years in a different way, or will they return to their 5oth year, accepting that this is the life they have?

My Thoughts

I’ve decided there needs to be a whole genre of literature–a section at Barnes and Noble called “Magic Realism Chick-Lit” or “Speculative Lady-Lit.” If there ever is such a category, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke will be queens of those shelves.

This is their third book (and I am in AWE of them for writing as a team and staying friends. That right there has to be really tough), and all three fall into my new genre.

The Year We Turned Forty is lots of fun, answering that age old question of “what if?” I play that game all the time. What if I hadn’t done that? What if I hadn’t moved there? What if we hadn’t watched “16 Candles” that one night (we wouldn’t have had our second daughter when we did)?

Fenton and Steinke’s characters are fun and interesting. The story isn’t necessarily deep, but it’s not meant to be. This is pure chick-lit fun in a speculative fashion. It has all the necessary components: conflict, friendship, romance, a chance at redemption.

If you’re looking for a great mindless read, The Year We Turned Forty fits that niche perfectly. Fun, funny, with just enough poignancy to drag you into the story and make you care about the characters.

I give The Year We Turned Forty 3.5 stars.


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