TWO SISTERS: A REVIEW

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Does the tale of the unwanted third child, Muriel Sullivant, begin on a cozy Sunday in her New York studio apartment, as she prepares to luxuriate in her favorite day of the week? She is grown by then, and enjoying the independence of the life she has chosen.

Or does it begin many years before, when her two parents, Owen and Lidia, met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island? That beginning would set the stage for a family of secrets and lies.

Muriel had always known that she was the unwanted child. Pia, her gorgeous sister, was the oldest and eight years her senior. Next came Logan, the son for her father. One child for Owen and one for Lidia. Then there was chubby Muriel, the outsider, who doesn’t fit in. She can sense her mother’s disapproval of her in every facial expression; her sister’s feelings show when she treats her like a nuisance.

Two Sisters: A Novel is a sad and emotional tale of all the things that go wrong in a family when the two parents feel trapped and disappointed with the lives they’re living. How does the third child survive the emotional abandonment?

I enjoyed the depth of the characters. Muriel’s sense of humor came from a place of pain, but revealed the strength of the survivor. Pia’s superficiality was altered as she came to Muriel with a big secret: a tragic event that would change all of their lives. And finally, in New Mexico, we meet Logan again, as the last of the secrets and lies are revealed.

In the opening scenes of the story, the flashbacks and fast forwards sometimes came too quickly, jolting me a bit. But then I began to settle into the flow of it.

There was a sweet feeling of new beginnings at the end. Not in an unrealistic way, but in the manner of baby steps and slow progress. There was a glimpse of hope. Recommended for those who relish family stories that are replete with secrets, especially when they are revealed slowly. Four stars.

WEAVING A COMPLEX TAPESTRY OF FAMILY LIFE — A REVIEW

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In the opening scenes of The Tin Horse: A Novel, we meet Elaine Greenstein, sorting through boxes that hold the memorabilia of her life and the lives of her parents.

Elaine has had a rich and full life as an attorney, and the causes she took on have made her something of a celebrity in her ranks. A young man named Josh, an archivist, is helping her decide which of her mementos to donate to USC . Because Elaine is finally leaving her home in Santa Monica for Rancho Manana, a retirement home that she has dubbed the Ranch of No Tomorrow.

Elaine’s wry sense of humor comes through as she tells the story in her first person narrative. A story that sweeps across the miles and the years to the homes where her ancestors lived, in the Europe of the Nazi years. Starting over in the Jewish communities of America would be like a fulfillment of their dreams. But what happened to each of them, including the struggles, the bigotry, and the reversals, would inform their lives forever.

Moving back and forth with the story, we are sometimes in the present as Elaine moves and settles into her new life. And then we move backward, watching as the answers begin to unfold. We learn many of the secrets, fears, dreams, and longings of the first and second generations of the Greenstein family. And when the secrets are revealed, we see the betrayals beneath them.

What has created the special link between Mama and Barbara? What is the significance of the tin horse? And how will Barbara’s impulsive behavior lead to something she does right after their high school graduation? How will her actions leave a hole in Elaine’s heart, and change the choices she makes from then on?

What will Elaine discover in the boxes that ultimately provides answers about her sister, and how will she finally discover what happened to her?

Richly layered with history, emotion, and the complex tapestry of family life, this is a story with true-to-life characters and settings that fully engaged me. Five stars.

THE POLITICS OF INHERITANCE: TREACHERY, BETRAYAL, & UNCERTAINTY — A REVIEW

 

As head of the vast empire of Deravenels, Edward is in a very powerful position. But the politics of inheritance involves a lot of treachery. And sometimes the treachery comes from within the family.

Constantly watching his back, Edward is also torn between his wife Elizabeth and his mistress Jane. In their world, mistresses are quite common. The fact that Edward only has one mistress is something he is quite proud of.

An heir is always uppermost in his mind as the outside forces of influenza, tragic accidents, and uncertainties threaten to leave him without one. Fortunately, in the early twentieth century, Edward has changed the rules of inheritance for his company by allowing a woman to also be named heir. This important detail will determine the future of his company, since he has many daughters. Protecting his sons is still important, but not as crucial as it once was.

One of my favorite things about this author’s books is her ability to show the reader the lush world of privilege through her descriptions that lead the reader right into the gorgeous rooms. And her characters have many privileges, including city homes and country homes. She also shows us the innermost thoughts and dreams of each of them, adding to our investment in their lives.

What I did not enjoy about The Heir was the rather snail’s pace of the first part of the book. In the first almost 400 pages, the period 1918-1928 was in the spotlight. Then the author took us quickly to 1970, leaping over more than forty years and featuring the grandson of Edward Deravenel and his quest for an heir. By the time he made his appearance, I was still caught up in the treachery of the early twentieth century. Taking such a quick pace at the end of the book left the reader without enough time to really know and care about the character Harry Turner. However, I enjoyed many portions of the book, and recommend it for fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Three stars.

THE SLIPPERY NATURE OF MEMORY — A REVIEW

Both the title and the opening lines drew me in immediately, as I knew that this would be a tale about family secrets and the cost of keeping them.

Drowning Ruth [Hardcover] begins in 1919, with Amanda Starkey’s role as a nurse during the war. But from there, we weave in and out of periods of time, both backward and forward, learning the story of Amanda and her sister Mathilda, who drowned mysteriously one night in November later that year, and the subsequent journey of Mathilda’s daughter Ruth.

The details are slipped in during these moments of reflection, like “doses” of medicine surreptitiously fed to a resistant patient. Later we hear Ruth’s voice, as she ages, from the confused thoughts about family events and drowning to later moments of increasing clarity. For Ruth is convinced that she drowned.

We can see from the beginning that the relationship between Amanda and Mathilda (Matty) is conflicted. There is a close bond–they are almost enmeshed–and yet the rivalry is readily apparent.

Other important characters are brought forth almost casually, like Clement Owens: his role in Amanda’s life will not be apparent for awhile.

What really happened to Mathilda Starkey, and what secrets have kept Amanda from moving on? How does the truth eventually come out, and what ramifications will unfold?

In some ways, the slipping back and forth through time felt confusing, and yet it also seemed appropriate. Like floating thoughts that slip in and out of our minds, these snippets seemed to show us the nature of memories.

I had hopes that Ruth would finally detach from the enmeshed relationship with Amanda, but alas: she seems to become the clone of her aunt, falling into her same patterns, living on the farm like a recluse. An emotionally disturbing story, I know that I won’t forget it. Four stars.

LIGHT, PREDICTABLE TEEN ROMP — A REVIEW

The youngest of three sisters, Leah Johnson has fallen into a groove of sorts. There are expectations from family that she will take a certain path, just like her older sisters. They each have the appropriate boyfriends, and Leah’s boyfriend Shane is also accepted by her family.

At the beginning of one hot summer, Leah’s oldest sister has announced her engagement, and while everything centers on the upcoming wedding, Leah is feeling restless. Everything about her boyfriend, her sisters, and her life has started to irritate her.

Then one day, she meets a hot guy who works at the country club, and a whirlwind flirtation ensues, with Leah obsessing about the guy, wanting something different from her sisters, and hoping she can juggle both boys until she decides what she really wants.

Kiss Crush Collide seemed like a light teen romance, but I found all the characters annoying, and Leah’s behavior toward an old friend Valerie seemed snobby at best and cruel at worst. I had a hard time believing that she wanted to “escape” the family’s expectations when everything she said and did fell right in with the family’s “party line.”

Was Leah torn between two lovers? Or was she just selfish and wanting to try out a new guy without really giving up the old one?

I was bored with this trite story long before the end. Two stars.

SISTERS, SECRETS, & THE UPS & DOWNS OF LIFE — BOOK REVIEW

Two sisters, Lizbet and Cassie, alternately tell this story using the first person narrative voice. As I slowly came to know them and their backstory, I found A Tale of Two Sisters captivating enough to continue.

However, at times, I would lose my way, as the story wended its way back and forth; occasionally, I had difficulty identifying who the narrator was at any given point. Sometimes chapters would identify the name of the narrator.

Despite those issues, however, I did come to enjoy the ups and downs of the sisters and their relationships with each other and with the men in their lives. The men were fairly loathsome, in my opinion, especially Cassie’s husband. I did like the fact that he got his comeuppance at one point, and then started to improve his behavior.

A long untold secret about Cassie is divulged (to Cassie and the reader) fairly early, but Lizbet is in the dark for most of the book.

The ending was puzzling, because, in the space of a couple of paragraphs, the reader is catapulted forward in time to “the future” (about three years ahead), and then is pushed backwards for a more slow reveal. I felt unsettled.

Overall, I would recommend the story to those who enjoy Maxted, and for anyone who just loves books about women and their relationships. For me, though, it earned three stars.

THE POWERFUL PULL OF THE PAST

Cassie Madison has successfully reinvented herself in New York as an advertising executive and the fiancée of a man with whom she shares dreams of a life of work and mutual goals.

A late-night phone call takes her back to her small town roots in Walton, Georgia, to see her dying father and the family she fled from all those years ago.  The only thing more frightening than losing her father, however, is seeing her sister Harriet—the one who betrayed her and stole her fiancé to marry him herself.

Now Harriet and Joe Warner have five children and the desire to make up for lost time.

But from the moment her father dies, and then leaves the family home to her, Cassie is fighting hard against the pull of the past, the home and its memories, and the growing attachment she is feeling once again for her family.

Then there’s Sam Parker, a boy who witnessed many of Cassie’s humiliating childhood moments.  He’s good looking, charming, and the local doctor.  But he’s also pig-headed, a bit of a chauvinist (in my opinion!), and has no trouble telling Cassie how wrong she is about everything.  Fighting the growing attraction between them while also trying to hold onto the self she reinvented is Cassie’s biggest task.

As the story unfolds, more is revealed.  Surprising events are afoot as developers try to reinvent Walton, with opponents lining up to say their piece.

Then a secret from the past casts new light on some townsfolk.  How will this secret affect the fates of the town and its people?  And will Cassie find the answers she seeks?  Will she discover what she truly wants when she finally listens to her own heart?

Surprisingly, this book tugged at my own belief systems and values as well.  I found some of the characters very annoying—like Sam Parker and Harriet Warner—with their tendency to tell everyone how they should feel and what they should do.  They also occasionally framed their remarks in sentiments like “follow your heart,” but they were quite forceful in trying to impose their own beliefs.

Then I realized why these behaviors were so annoying to me.  I had grown up in a similar community, and while it was not in the South, it almost could have been.  Small rural villages throughout this country have some traits in common.  I fled from these roots just as Cassie did, so a part of me wanted her to stick to her reinvented self.  But gradually I came to realize that, for Cassie, she hadn’t really wanted to leave the community behind as much as she wanted to distance herself from the emotional pain.

In the end, the very root of her pain became the source of her healing.  As a result, I have awarded Falling Home five stars.

TESTING THE TIES OF SISTERHOOD

Abbie, Emma, and Lily Fox are grown women, but their ties to their father and their Nantucket Island home are strong. Even though the two older sisters have moved out to establish their own homes, and despite the fact that the motherless sisters have been apart for awhile, all it takes is an e-mail message from one of them to bring the troops home.

Home is where their father Jim lives, along with twenty-two year old Lily.

Recently, Emma has burrowed into the nest, after a shocking betrayal by her fiancé. She has lost her love, her business, and her condo. Since her return home, though, she has curled up under the covers to mourn.

Abbie, as the oldest sister, is the one who mothered the other two when their mother died…Even though Abbie was only fifteen when it happened. But Lily’s e-mail message to Abbie, begging her help, is not just about Emma. Their father has rented out the “playhouse” to a woman, and he seems entirely too interested in her.

Marina, the woman renting the cottage, has her own pain and loss to overcome. Her husband fell in love and impregnated her best friend, which is especially painful, since Marina has been trying to get pregnant for years. So she, too, is licking her own wounds on the island that summer.

We meet each of the women in turn, during one unique summer; the chapters reveal bits and pieces of their lives, their attitudes, and their feelings. By the time the story has moved into gear, we’ve gone a long way toward really understanding each of these characters.

Abbie may be just a bit overly protective of the others, but that is starting to change. She is especially less permissive with Lily, the “baby,” which irritates this youngest sister.

Emma’s depression is worrisome to the others, primarily because it evokes old and painful memories of their mother, Danielle, who spiraled downward into a dangerous depression just before her death.

Each of the women begins to discover herself and to form new attachments…to people they’ve met through their jobs and through their renewed connections in the island community. Will Abbie finally let go of her extreme sense of responsibility for the others and form her own attachments? Will she fall in love? And what about Emma? Will she get past the pain of her lost love and begin again? And what will it take to make that happen? Lily seems so totally self-involved, that one could almost believe that she is the most free from constraints. But the past begins to intrude and remind her, as well as her sisters, that sometimes pain and loss accompany family attachments.

I thoroughly enjoyed Beachcombers: A Novel and how the author portrayed the personal choices and transformations that each woman must make, conveying that life moves on and people can heal and grow. This book has definitely earned five stars, in my opinion.

CREATING SEA GLASS ART AND FINDING A LIFE…

Ginger Walsh is the forty-something single sister living in her parents’ garage apartment, while Geri is the married one, almost fifty, with three children. Ginger babysits for her sister’s kids while trying to figure out how to create intriguing things from sea glass. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend Noah seems to be a true commitment phobe, but she herself is not completely sure that she wants a long term relationship. Except, perhaps, with her cat named Boyfriend.

Then suddenly something happens that will turn all their lives in a different direction. A casting call goes out for local kids to star in a movie featuring a shark that’s hovering near shore in this Massachusetts town. Ginger takes her nieces and nephew, and nephew Riley is chosen.

Making a movie, hanging out with the gaffer, and playing around with her sea glass becomes a time of sorting out what Ginger really wants in her life. And throwing a birthday party for her sister grants the two of them an opportunity to work on a project together that could actually turn into a new business. And it might solve a few other problems, like how to keep the family home in the family, while allowing mom and dad the chance to get that condo.

Thoroughly engaging, Life’s a Beach was a quick, light read that also revealed those sibling issues that crop up in books and in life.

Four stars for this one. It was a bit predictable, but also had a unique flair to it.