Bestselling author Claire Cook‘s newest adventure — and it is an adventure — is “Back on Track,” Book Two in “The Wildwater Walking Club” series. The first book about the Wildwater Walking Club was first published in 2009, and Cook decided that it was time for these characters to take another walk together — and fly-together — to France and lavender country.
I’m sure when Cook picked this destination, it wasn’t with the idea that she could go there first to get the details of a river cruise for the book — or maybe it was. Cook takes what she learned and experienced on her trip to fill the book with details that flood the story and make it real. The reader can almost smell the fields of lavender, and many will want to grow their own lavender and make lavender wands (instructions included).
Cook explained, “I didn’t want to fake this. I’d never done a river cruise but thought it would be a good way for them to do this.”
One of the things that many readers love about some of Cook’s books are the recipes that she includes. In “Best Staged Plans,” she includes ideas about how to use Trader Joe’s food to create sumptuous meals. In this book, she includes recipes to make lavender water, lavender moisturizer, and more.
Cook also does what she excels at: She creates characters who are just like her readers. They are not young, nor are they old. They are not fabulously wealthy, nor are they poor. They each have their own insecurities — which is true of almost all of us. When her main character, Noreen, signs up to take a health coaching session (who knew that was a career?), she sees all the others have brought expensive water bottles made of stainless steel or BPA-free plastic. Noreen reflects:
“Great. My own water bottle was a disposable. Not even a hip, overpriced throwaway like Evian or Fiji or Smeraldina, but a cheap, flimsy supermarket brand. Health coach training had barely begun and already I didn’t fit in.”
Toward the end of the book, Noreen sees another couple and says,
“A couple in jeans and sunglasses walked by the ship, so close I could almost touch them from the balcony. The man reached over and twirled a lock of the woman’s long straight hair. She laughed and gave her head a flip, as if she were filming a shampoo commercial. As if he were the luckiest guy in the world to get to touch her hair. In my wildest dreams, I could never be that cool.”
But while she is saying that, she has also grown emotionally over the course of the story. At the beginning, she was in a kind-of-relationship with Rick, who had also been made redundant at her former place of employment. They met during the job counseling that the company provided for those employees. While they dated, it was not serious. Neither of them was in an emotional frame of mind to take it further.
Cook uses the health coaching classes as an instrument to include some real truths about life in this novel. Some are the same truths that she shares in her nonfiction books, “It’s Never Too Late” and “Shine On.”
Cook touches on the real and current issue of bullying. It actually becomes a twist in the story, but it’s thoughtfully done and touching. It should make every reader think about whether she’s ever done anything like that or been the victim of anything like that.
“And I remembered that health coach thing you said about the difference between a fixed mindset, when if you screw up, it means you’re a screw-up, end of story. But a growth mindset is like being in beta, where your screw-ups give you the information you need so you can fix the bugs. And I realized that if you buy into that, you don’t have to cut and run when you mess up. Or when somebody else does. You can take the lesson and grow.”
Cook reflected on this last book. She explained:
“I think that for me, as I jumped into the book, I wanted to share that we think that change is a destination, but the truth is that the backsliding happens to all of us. And that’s okay. That’s how we continue to grow. I hear from my readers, “I’m not as far along as I thought I’d be…” whether they are talking about getting in shape or a new job or finding out their passion. They say, “I was doing so well for a while.”
Cook wanted the characters in the book to reflect that reality. “All three women slid back, and that’s normal and we should accept it. I sat in on health coach training at Emory to make sure that I had the picture. What I wrote in the book were fictional people, but the details were authentic.”
The reason fans love each one of Claire Cook’s books is that every book — fiction and nonfiction — helps readers find ideas that they can use in their lives. Whether it’s a river cruise in France or health coach training, or just learning something new, we all are growing and changing throughout our lives. And that’s wonderful. Readers always learn something from Cook’s books — about life and lifelong learning.
Enjoy the story. Learn about river cruises and lavender and health coaching. Learn that making mistakes in life just helps us grow as people. And Cook would certainly say to enjoy the journey. That’s what life is all about.