Bookworm: A good choice – ‘Life and Other Love Songs’

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Life and Other Love Songs”

  • By Anissa Gray
  • c. 2023, Berkley
  • $27, 324 pages

If only you could wave a magic wand. All your troubles would disappear, poof! One wave, and you’d have the money you need, the job you want, the family you’ve dreamed about, the life you deserve. Wave a magic wand and go on vacation or – as in the new book “Life and Other Love Songs” by Anissa Gray – you could wave it and just disappear.

Between the time she met him, and 1989, Deborah held two funerals for her husband, Daniel Ozro Armstead Junior. He wasn’t at either one of them.

The first was held not long after his 37th birthday, after Oz had lunch with his brother, then left the restaurant and vanished. The second funeral, some years later, was held after Oz was declared dead so that Deborah and her daughter, Trinity, could finally have closure.

“Life and Other Love Songs” by Anissa Gray.

The first time Deborah saw him, Oz was standing all by himself at a rent party and she walked right up to him, just like that, right after she and her girl-group appeared on the little stage they’d set up in a corner of the living room. Deborah promised him that one day, she’d appear on a real stage and he believed her.

Oz loved her instantly, but he was intimidated.

He’d never seen someone as beautiful as Deborah, or as sure of herself, but he, too, had plans. He kept them in a notebook that he carried everywhere with him and soon, his plans included finishing college, getting an office job, and taking care of Deborah and a family.

He’d keep applying for jobs that he’d never get. He’d refuse to discuss the trauma he shared with his brother, or their Alabama growing-up. He’d threaten a gay friend with public revelation and arrest to get his way. And Oz would lie to Deborah, again and again, knowing that she could get over some things but she could never know the truth.

“Life and Other Love Songs” author Anissa Gray.

Crack open “Life and Other Love Songs,” and you may wonder what you got yourself into. Like a dropped cup full of beads, the prologue scatters – but stick with it. The first full chapter, which comes quick enough, will pull you into the novel you want.

Told with a fluid time-frame in three distinct voices, this story of secrets, trust, and the lack of it takes readers back sixty years before pulling them forward through the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Movement, the Gay Rights movement, and its characters’ lives. Despite this huge decades-wide backdrop, author Anissa Gray holds the story tight by keeping readers guessing on Oz’s background, the lies he’s told, and the colossal betrayals of trust he committed. Whether or not you’ll be satisfied at how this unfolds and what happens to the characters in the end will depend on how you like novels of treachery.

This is a good choice for your book club, for vacation, or any time you want a tale with a hint of history in the background. Start “Life and Other Love Songs” and wave goodbye to your weekend.

MOREBookworm: ‘House of Cotton’ will surprise you

ANDBookworm: ‘Silver Alert’ – A fast read with a great story-line

ALSOBookworm: Read ‘Presence’  and wonder ... who’s there?

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at


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