“Not by Design” is the latest offering from multi-published women’s fiction author Carol Balawyder. It is a sequel to “Getting to Mr. Right,” which you should read if you haven’t. “Getting to Mr. Right” is the story of four women who meet at a support group (the focus of which is women who have men/father issues) and form lasting, sincere friendships.
“Not by Design” is Felicity Starr’s story. She is one of the women in the support group, and she has it all—looks, youth, a rich father, talent, true-heart friends and the love of a handsome, successful man. She is living a fairy tale life in France, studying art and pursuing a career in art, while enjoying an active social/love life. But even fairy tales are wrought with obstacles and that’s exactly what our heroine encounters—one setback after another. There’s the death of her father, a dwindling bank account which brings on financial woes, an art career that has stalled, and the painful decision to end her relationship with her fiancé and call off the wedding. But that’s not all. The biggest blow of all—a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). With all this dumped on her, Felicity makes the hard decision to release her dream of being an artist and living in France. She returns home to Canada to try and piece a life together.
The move back home is met with more bitterness. She fights to recover her reputation in the work world. She has disagreements with her mother and step-mother. She gambles on several romantic interests and loses. And, she must make a slew of difficult choices in regard to her living arrangements and medical treatment, decisions made more difficult because of her limited funds. One wonders if Felicity will ever catch a break when…help arrives. At the strong suggestion of her doctor, she attends a MS support group meeting and finds the support and acceptance she so desperately needs. With the encouragement of the group, she shares her medical condition with her friends, who surround her with love, care and acceptance. The end of the story details the good life Felicity has finally secured. No, it’s not the one she would have designed for herself, but it works. She’s happy.
This is a story that will take you low on the scale of human emotions and then pick you up. You will feel despair, then happiness; fear, then joy. This emotional seesaw is achieved in part by the story’s conflict—dreams and desire versus medical and financial worries, a situation many readers may relate to. I certainly did. And then there’s the overall story question: are we willing to release our version of our dream or life in exchange for an uncertain version? This is the question Felicity struggles with throughout the story but I dare say it is one many readers struggle with as well.
There are many things to appreciate about this story. It is inspiring, well written and has relatable characters. But the one aspect I appreciated the most was the focus on MS. Reading about the symptoms, the various treatments, the expense, and how it requires life adjustments was a real education. Thank you Carol for that.
I finished reading the book and shut down my e-reader thinking, I can’t wait to read the remaining sequel. The other three—“Café Paradise,” “Missi’s Dating Adventures” and “Not by Design”—have been purely enjoyable. Check ‘em out and see for yourself.