Monday, August 30, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

This week we're discussing Sections Five through Eight for The Handmaid's Tale read-along.  Mercy, have we learned a lot this week!  The read-along is hosted by Trish at Classic Reads Book Club.
"We are for breeding purposes: we aren't concubines, geisha girls, courtesans.  On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category.  There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or by us, there are to be no toeholds for love.  We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices."

Sometime in the future, most women have become infertile and it has become the duty of the women who are still fertile to bear children for the elite.  The Handmaids' duty is to become impregnated by the Commanders during ceremonies that also involve the Commander's wives.  All passion and love is absent from these liasons.  Even when women become pregnant, there is a very real risk, because of environmental hazards, that the child will be born deformed in some way, an Unbaby.

"Women took medicines, pills, men sprayed trees, cows ate grass, all that souped-up piss flowed into the rivers.  Not to mention the exploding atomic power plants, along the San Andreas fault, nobody's fault, during the earthquakes, and the mutant strain of syphillis no mold could touch."

A birth is such an important part of life that all of the Handmaids in an area attend to assist with the birth and all of the Commander's Wives attend to support the Wife whose Handmaid is having the baby.  They even pretend that the woman is actually the one in labor.  The whole thing was so cold.

We learned that our narrator is Offred.  All of the Handmaids are named as if they are the property of their Commander, which, of course, they are.  To the extent that when the Commander asks Offred to come to his office, a forbidden place, she goes even though she knows he will not support her if she is caught.  But it begins to give her an opening to ask for a favor or make her escape.  I'm eager to see where this will lead.

In our conversations about this book, one of the things that we've talked about it "freedom from."  In the society in this book, residents are largely free from decision and, for the most part risk.  Offred and the other women are able to walk down the street and feel entirely safe, free from worry.  But is this kind of freedom women want?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Salon - August 29

Amazon has released their Fall Reading Preview. I find it very interesting that they have a separate category for Blockbusters, Fiction and Nonfiction. Are they not anticipating that any of the fiction or nonfiction books will become blockbusters? Leading the list of fiction is Jonathon Franzen's "Freedom" and Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy)" heads up the blockbusters.

NPR's Summer Reading section is highlighting nonfiction books to ease us out of summer and into the fall. I know many of you are fans of Anthony Bourdain and his latest, "Medium Raw" makes the list as does "The Daily Show's" Samantha Bee with "i know i am, but what are you?"

I'm continuing with the read-a-long of The Handmaid's Tale this week, as well as starting (a week late) the Bleak House read-a-long and reading "Finny." I only hope I can keep it all straight. What's on you reading agenda for the week?

Friday, August 27, 2010

All Things In Common

This summer not many of my books have had much in common with each other, with the except of "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien which tied back into the books I read this spring that dealt with Vietnam. But it wasn't a coincidence, as were so many of the other commonalities I've come across. I knew it was about Vietnam going in.

More of the things that have made me go "wow, I was just reading about this" happened while I was listening to the radio. Not long after I featured Kim Stanley Robinson's book "The Years of Rice and Salt" in Mama Shepp's Family Recommends. I'd never heard of Robinson before this book was recommended to me. Imagine my surprise to hear that name come up again while I was listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR. Alan Cheuse reviewed Robinson's latest book, a collection of his short stories titled "The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson." Cheuse has never steered me wrong so getting that second recommendation for this author's work really makes me think I need to get to "The Years of Rice and Salt" sooner rather than later.

That same day I was listening to APR's The Story and Dick Gordon was talking to Dennis Reed, who was an amateur photographer 30 years ago when he came across the work of Japanese American art photographers who had been forced to hid their work when they were sent to Japanese internment camps (a subject I'd discovered had recently come up in several reads). Some of these photographers managed to make cameras out of materials they were allowed to have in the camps. As stark and barren as the other photographs I've seen of these camps are, these make them look so much worse.

Have you discovered any themes recurring in your reading?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Miracles of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

The Miracles of Prato by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz
384 pages
Published January 2009 by Harper Collins Publishing
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

In 1457, in Prato, Italy, Fra Filippo Lippi, monk and reknowned artist is teetering on the edge of disaster. His morals are suspect, his spending imprudent and he's definitely taken on more than he can manage. He's taken a commission for a painting of the Madonna but can't seem to find inspiration. Sisters Lucrezia and Spinetta Buti are recently impoverished following the death of their silk merchant father and the slandering of his good name. The only option for them is to become novitiates at the Convent Santa Margherita. Spinetta, who has always planned a life in a religious order readily accepts her fate but Lucrezia is heartbroken to have to give up her dreams of someday being a wife to a wealthy man and a mother. When Fra Filippo, who is the chaplain for the convent, first sees Lucrezia he has found his muse.

Lucrezia's visits to the Fra's bottega draw the notice of powerful people, including the Prior General, who are quick to think the worst of the situation. Things quickly spiral out of control and even the fact that Lippi and Lucrezia have fallen in love cannot salvage the situation.

When I finished this book I surprised to realize that I had not marked one passage with a sticky tab nor had I taken one note. That usually mean that I could hardly stomach the book; that it was not bad enough for me to mark things that I wanted to point out as reasons not to read the book. Which was not the case at all with this book. I liked it well enough but it just never grabbed me.

Morowitz, who is an art historian, clearly knows her stuff and there is a great deal of detail regarding painting techniques, the creation of paints, and the specifics of how various forms of painting are rendered. All of which is a wonderful teaching tool but there is just too much of it; it frequently slows the pacing of the book and distracts rather than enhances.

Although I never became fully engaged with the characters, I did get wrapped up in the story as the tension grew and it became more and more apparent that terrible things were going to happen to Lucrezia and Fra Filippo. But the ending felt rushed for me and a final chapter that threw us many years into the future was a disappointment.

Fra Filippo Lippi and Lucrezia Buti are actual historical people, as are many of the other characters. Albanese has crafted the book around the rumor of their liason and I did enjoy the historical background of the story and the look into the power structure of the time.

Other sites related to the book check out:

As always with TLC Book Tours, you can find a number of opinions about this book. Dar, of Peeking Between The Pages, loved this book and felt the combination of the fact and fiction was seamless. For the other reviews, please check out these sites:

Tuesday, August 10th: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, August 11th: The Tome Traveller
Thursday, August 12th: English Major’s Junk Food
Monday, August 16th: The Whimsical Cottage
Wednesday, August 18th:
Tuesday, August 24th: Passages to the Past
Wednesday, August 25th: Lit and Life
Thursday, August 26th: Life in the Thumb
Monday, August 30th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, August 31st: Drey’s Library
Thursday, September 2nd: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Handmaid's Tale Readalong

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Published 1985 by McClelland and Stewart
Source: I bought it--I even have the receipt still in the book to prove it

I've been meaning to read this book for years; it was even on my plan to read it this year. But it took Trish (of Hey Lady, Whatcha Reading) hosting a readalong at Classic Read Book Club to get me to actually pick it up.

Several months ago, I happened to come across the movie, which stars Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. Didn't like it a bit. I couldn't believe you could take a book that is supposed to be so great, add in that many great actors and come out with such a dull movie. Which made me really wonder about the book. I immediately hoped that the number one would not come up as my next read for the Random Reading Challenge. Four sections into the book and I'm ready to throw all of the blame on the script. Or the director. Anything other than the source material.

Because even though I've now read fifty pages of the book and have really only been given glimpses of what is really happening, I'm really enjoying Atwood's writing.
"A bed. Single, mattress medium-hard, covered with a flocked white spread. Nothing takes place in the bed but sleep; or no sleep. I try not to think too much. Like other things now, thought must be rationed. There's a lot that doesn't bear thinking about. Thinking can hurt your chances, and I intend to last. I know why there is no glass in front of the watercolor picture of blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn't running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open n yourself, given a cutting edge."
The world as we know it has changed dramatically and our narrator, who is, at this point nameless, finds herself in the position of being a Handmaid. We don't really know yet what exactly that means except to know that she lives in the house with a Commander, the Commander's Wife, some Guardians and a couple of Martha's (essentially house staff). Handmaids have their own room in the homes but nothing about them is personal, the Martha's don't seem to like the Handmaid and the Commander's Wife is openly hostile. Our narrator is sent out on daily walks but must always be with another Handmaid, is not allowed to show her face, and can't talk to anyone other than the Marthas and other Handmaids. She's having recollections of a child, clearly her own, and a man but we don't yet know what happened to them. Or what has caused the world to change so dramatically.

And there is the Wall. It's hundreds of years old but it's gates now have sentries, there is barbed wire at its base, broken glass on it's top and floodlights mounted on metal posts.

"No one goes through those gates willingly. The precautions are for those trying to get out, though to make it even as far as the Wall, from the inside, past the electronic alarm system, would be next to impossible. Beside the main gateway there are six more bodies hanging by the necks, their hands tied in front of them, their heads in white bags tipped sideways onto their shoulders. There must have been a Men's Salvaging early this morning."
Doctors, lawyers and scientists seem to be the primary target of the Men's Salvaging but why? And why does the Handmaid wear nothing but red? So many questions at this point--I can't wait to read on for the answers. I know, I know--I saw the movie. But, honestly, I disliked it so much, I've all but put it out of my head. I'll let Atwood lead on.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Salon - August 22

Mini-me went off to buy his books for college last week. What a shock that was to his poor little checkbook! It got me kind of riled up as well, I must admit. His art history book alone cost $121. It's paperback! How do the publishers even justify that? How can college textbooks cost three of four times more than a regular book of the same size? If you can explain this to me, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I recently read Audrey Niffenegger's "Her Fearful Symmetry" thanks to the kind folks at Regal Literary who sent me a copy. Have you seen what they're giving away? To promote the paperback release of "Her Fearful Symmetry," Regal Literary is giving away a trip to London that includes a tour, by Audrey Niffenegger, of Highgate Cemetery! There are also 350 signed copies of the book being given away and 100 custom "Her Fearful Symmetry" broadsheets. This giveaway is open to any blogger you writes a review, good or bad, of the book and submits it no later than September 17th.

This week kicks off "The Handmaid's Tale" readalong hosted by Trish at Classic Reads Book Club. I'm very excited to finally have had the kick in the rear I needed to get around to reading this book. Which apparently everyone else read in high school. I had English in high school; what the heck were we reading? Oh yeah, I forgot, I'm old. "The Handmaid's Tale" wasn't even published until a really long time after I graduated. Any way, it's not too late to join us!

I'm off to write reviews. By some miracle, I'm actually behind on reviews. See--I told you I was still reading even though I wasn't present in the blogosphere! What's on your reading agenda this week?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paula Deen's Savannah Style by Paula Dean and Brandon Branch

Paula Deen's Savannah Style by Paula Deen and Brandon Branch
Published April 2010 by Simon and Schuster
Source: the publisher and Pump Up Your Book Promotion

Beautiful photography and writing that oozes the Southern charm that Deen is known for make up this wonderful book that showcases the homes in one of the most beautiful cities in the country. 

The book is divided into seasons. Spring is dominated by decorating your outdoor spaces--gardens and porches; summer is focused on keeping cool with sleeping porches and parlors designed to keep the heat out; fall is time to bring out the good stuff and get more formal yet be comfortable, and winter is about the holidays and making a house a home.

Sometimes the writing can be a bit much (the "g" is left off the end of a lot of words such as fixin') but then if you've ever watched Deen's television shows, that is the way she talks and I found myself picking up a Southern accent as I read the book. In every chapter there are block of Brandon's Style Secrets. Nothing revolutionary here but they are great tips. Savannah is over the top but there are still a lot of great ideas here that anyone could incorporate into their own homes. Except I think that I'll skip on the taxidermy. Yes, there is an section devoted to taxidermy which is apparently big in Savannah. Instead I'll focus on the sections on collecting and book nooks. And maybe bring in some of those fresh flowers that Branch is so fond of.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Last War by Ana Menendez

The Last War by Ana Menendez
225 pages
Published June 2010 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Dominican-American photographer, Flash and her journalist husband, Brando, follow the wars, working as a team. But as the book opens Brando, aka Wonderboy, is in Iraq covering that conflict while Flash languishes in Istanbul, ostensibly held up while she's waiting for the necessary paperwork to come through. But Flash is held up more by the idea that her marriage is on the rocks. Then a letter from a person named "Mira" turns up (Flash can't recall knowing anyone named Mira), a letter that seems to insinuate that Mira and Flash are old friends and discloses to Flash past and present infidelities on Brando's part.

Suddenly Flash is packing to return to the U.S. then unpacking the next day; she's unable to work, she's wondering the streets of Istanbul. Her conflicted state of mind isn't made any better by the arrival of Alexandra, an old friend who has known Brando and Flash through some extreme times, or by the sporadic phones calls she gets from Brando who is alternatively angry with her or begging her not to leave him and who can't seem to call from his own room any more.

Menendez' writing is crisp and often poetic throughout most of the book, although I sometimes felt it meandered a bit. Maybe that was just me--I often found my mind wandering off as I read this book. Which might not be surprising given that that is what Flash was doing most of the book; the reader is often pulled into the past or through the streets of Istanbul. But my other problem was that I never connected to Flash. I didn't expect to be able to relate to her (nothing in my own life echoes hers) but I really wanted to be able to connect to her. Yet I couldn't understand why all of a sudden she was questioning her marriage. It seemed to me that Brando and Flash had always had a strange marriage, one where Flash was almost an afterthought even though she seemed to think of them as a team.
"No, my marriage had not been happy. Is anyone's? Everyone thought ours was. But it was just an ordinary marriage, the kind where happiness doesn't even enter into the reckoning. When you first meet, your love is a stranger. Years go by - you are bound together through moves, new cities, shared friends. You travel. You wake up and make love, you go out for dinner, you do the laundry. Beneath the surface of things, everything is changing except the one: the stranger you married is still the person you don't know."
Much is made of Flash's inability, unwillingness, to learn the language in any of the countries to which she has traveled, compounding her inability to feel at home any where. Much is also made of a faulty air conditioning unit and a couple that is constantly fighting in the apartment above Flash. All of which serve to add to Flash's frustration and also to point out the larger turmoil in the world around us.

One reviewer compared the book to a "European art house movie" and I would have to say that description is not far off. If you don't mind a slow paced read that is both deeply introspective while exploring larger world issues, then you will find The Last War of interest. If you are a reader looking for characters you can relate to or a plot-driven novel, you will want to pass on this one.

Menendez is a Pushcart Prize winner and the author of several other books. She has worked as a columnist for the Miami Herald as well as contributed to The New York Times and The New Republic.

Thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For more opinions, see the full list of reviews.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sunday Salon - August 15

I hadn't intended on taking an almost week long break from blogging, but some how that's just what happened this week. I've been reading like crazy and trying to keep up to some extent with your blogs but I just haven't had the time or ability to focus on actually putting together a post.

My youngest headed back to school this week. Which means that I had to start getting up earlier in the morning and that's taking some getting used to! Theoretically that would mean I would get off work earlier but that didn't happen until Friday when I came home early, packed a van load of stuff and headed off to help my oldest move. In another week, Mini-me will head off to college. Well, not so much head off since he'll still be living at home and going to the university here but it still means getting books, back to campus activities and figuring out transportation (there's a great bus system to get him there). Needless to say, my house has been in a state of flux this week!

In bookish news, I'm getting excited about the news coming from Dreamworks Studios about the 2011 release of the movie adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's "The Help." A recent press release says that Allison Janney, of West Wing fame, has now been cast as Skeeter's mother, Charlotte Phelan. The website shows the official cast as:

Emma Stone - Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan
Viola Davis - Aibileen
Octavia Spencer - Minnie
Bryce Dallas Howard - Hilly

Short notice but there's still time, through today, to register with iVillage to a chance to visit the set and meet the cast. Check it out at:

To Enter:;
For Official Rules:

Buttery Books is a great site for book clubs that really like to celebrate the book they're talking about. The site offers suggestions for drinks, food and decor for quite a few different books, including The Help, The Art of Racing In The Rain, and Eat, Pray, Love. For The Help the ladies started with mint juleps and ended with, what else, chocolate pie!

I have no idea what those little boxes are that are appearing on the finished post--can't see them as I compose and can't seem to get rid of them.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson

Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson
344 pages
Published June 2010 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: the publisher for the Manic Mommies Book Club

Rose Mae Lolley grew up rough--the daughter of an abused woman who left her behind when she disappeared and a father who took it out on her as soon as her mother left. She left home early but it's been one long string of abusive relationships culminating in her marriage to Thom Grandee. Rose Mae has reinvented herself, partially out of love and partially out of the need to survive, into Ro Grandee, a sweet little wife who wears ballet flats and floral skirts. But a chance encounter with a gypsy in the airport convinces Ro that it's time to get out of her marriage, one way or another, and Rose Mae is just the girl to do it.

"It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband. She may have been the first to say the words out loud, but she was only giving voice to a thing I'd been trying not to know for a long, long time. When she said that it was him or me, the words rang out like church bells, shuddering through my bones. For two days, they sat in the pit of my belly, making me sick. I had no reason to trust her, and I'd as soon take life advice from a Chinese take-out fortune cookie as believe in tarot cards, but I'd lived with Thom Grandee long enough to recognize the truth, no matter how it came to me."

But when Ro can't shoot Thom, she needs to find someone who will be willing to kill for her. She decides that her old high school beau is just the person to do the job--after all, he'd once said that he'd be willing to kill her father for her. But her search for Jim Beverly only serves to make her realize that she is on her own--with only her dog, Fat Gretel, her pawpy's gun, and her desire to survive and maybe find her mother in the process.

Jackson does a fine job of exploring abusive relationships and the lengths the abused must go to in order to survive. I especially liked the way she explored the different personas of not only Rose Mae but her abusers as well. Jackson doesn't attempt to portray Rose Mae's father or husband as good people but she does give them depth by showing the reader what has happened in their lives that may have lead them to become people that would do the things they do to Rose Mae. Likewise, I felt the relationship between Rose Mae and her mother was well developed and I enjoyed the way it changed over time.

Other things I felt happened too quickly but I can't really delve into the specifics without giving away anything. And I had a hard time buying the idea that the first person to whom Ro would turn would be a sometimes boyfriend from ten years earlier who disappeared without a trace while they were still in college. And hidden messages that Rose Mae's mother had left for her, while interesting, didn't seem to really contribute to the story other than to prod Rose Mae along initially. Still, the ending was a surprise and Jackson managed to make me care about Rose Mae even though she wasn't, in many ways, a particularly nice person.

Thanks to Mari, of Bookworm With A View, who wrangles the Manic Mommies Book Club and arranged a phone discussion with Jackson that will allow you to learn move about her process and thoughts about this book.

Thanks for the love!

Lisa, of bibliophiac, and Donna at A Novel Review, have given me The Versatile Blogger award. I'm terrible these days at passing awards along but I do love to introduce you to the terrific bloggers that took the time to pass them along to me with the hope that you'll visit their blogs!

Lisa is a high school English teacher who would love to see grade be done away with--just the kind of teacher my soon-to-be sophomore would love to have! She has also studied art--a subject we're quite fond of around here, what with a kid heading off to college this year to study Studio Art. I find it very interesting that Lisa's favorite sport is boxing--it's not often that you hear a woman say that.

Donna is new to blogging; she just started her blog in April but is already light years ahead of me on layout! I guess that history of learning HTML before it was even HTML helps! Donna says she looks just like her mother, something we can relate to in this house. When I was growing up people used to tell me all of the time that I looked just like my mother and now they tell my daughter the same thing. Donna used to be a big league bowler--and by "big league" I don't mean a professional but that she was, at one point, involved in three leagues in one season. Clearly she has an average well above my highest score ever of 127!

Please stop by these ladies' blogs and give them some love and, while you're there, check out the other blogs that they also nominated. There were a lot of great blogs that were new to me.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Raves About Books I Loved!

On NPR this week, librarian and blogger Nancy Pearl picked her under the radar reads. Included among the books were both of Emily St. John Mandel's books--"Last Night in Montreal" and "The Singer's Gun." Mandel is currently working on her third book - it's got a lot to live up to!

Also making the list was Tatjana Soli's "The Lotus Eaters." I'm excited to see these great books getting recognition. But I am a little sad to realize that they are all still "under the radar!"

Another title from Unbridled Books that I read and enjoyed a lot was Jason Quinn Malott's "The Evolution of Shadows" which was just named on of Kansas' 2010 Notable Books, the top books published in 2009 written by Kansans or about Kansas. Malott falls in the first category--he lives in Wichita.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Anne of Green Gable by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Originally published in 1908
Source: I listened to the Librivox recording

Brother and sister Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt live and farm at Green Gables, in the village of Avonlea on the Prince Albert Island in Canada. When they decide to adopt a boy from an orphanage to help on the farm, they get instead Anne Shirley, a precious eleven year old girl. Marilla is more than ready to send her back immediately but Matthew is charmed and soon Anne finds herself a part of life on the farm. For her part, beyond being thrilled with the idea that she will finally have a home, Anne is overwhelmed immediately by a love of the natural setting of Green Gables. By the time Marilla gets a chance to find Anne another home, she has made the decision to keep Anne. A decision she will question again and again as Anne fumbles and stumbles her way through life. Because Anne is so prone to daydreaming, she is also prone to making careless mistakes. But she is also enthusiastic, loving and tries so hard to improve. The reader follows Anne through her life in Avonlea, her friendships (she is always looking for kindred spirits), and on through her days in high school where she excels.

My book club reads a "classic" every year and this year we choose "Anne of Green Gables." One of our members is a playwright who incorporated several classic girl's books into a play that some of us heard a reading of which prompted us to revisit our childhood. Of the five books incorporated into the play, this was the only one I had never read and I was eager to see what makes it so beloved. When I finished, I was still wondering.

I found the book excessively wordy, although Montgomery does a lovely job of describing nature. I quickly grew tired of Anne's daydreams and found much of the book repetitive. Further, I found it odd that Montgomery spent whole chapters discussing some situations then, as the book neared the end, condensed entire school years into a single chapter.

I did like the juxtaposition of Anne, who is all imagination, and Marilla, who is no nonsense and watching them gradually grow on each other. Although it often annoyed me how hard Marilla was on Anne even after she has warmed to her. But then I also felt sorry for Marilla when Anne would proclaim how fond she was of other people without ever really showing any fondness for Marilla.

The book is clearly of the time that it was written. On the other hand, young people today are every bit as concerned as Anne was about their appearance and having the right clothes. At one point, a couple gets married in a home because no one gets married in a church--and don't people still worry all of the time about what other people will think of them?

When I got to my book club meeting last month, I found that I wasn't the only one that was unimpressed with this book and when our playwright, who loves the book, arrived, we were quick to ask "why?" Her defense did make some of us reconsider the book. One of the things that still appeals to her about this book is that it does not preach, as do almost all other books written for children in this time period. True enough--it does not. And she loves the way Marilla allows Anne to make her mistakes and learn from them, a way of childrearing that was unheard of at the time but a way that most experts now recommend.

So, I'm left wondering...if I had read this book as a child, would I love it?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Sue Meyers

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers
320 pages
Published January 2010 by St. Martin's Press
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Lulu and Merry's mother was not the kind of mother that hung their artwork on the refrigerator and made them special after school snacks. Instead she was a mother who cared far more about herself, a mother who threw their father out of the house so she would be able to have her affairs more easily. A mother who told Lulu and Merry never to let their father in the apartment. But one day, he convinced Lulu to do just that and then proceeded to stab her mother to death, stab Merry and then try to kill himself while Lulu ran for help. When he was sent off to prison, the girls were sent to live with their maternal grandmother but when she died, no one else in the family would have the murderer's daughters. For several years they suffered through life in an orphanage until Lulu manipulated one of the counselors to take them into her home as foster children. When she also died, they were left with no one except each other (not always what either of them wants) and a father who Merry continues to visit but whom Lulu refuses to have any contact with.

This book follows the sisters for more than 30 years as they both deal with the tragedy of what happened to their family that day in their apartment. Lulu convinces Merry that they must never tell anyone what happened--all the world, except Lulu's husband, believe that their parents were both killed in a car accident. And that is how Lulu has coped with the guilt--a carefully constructed life in which she does her best to ignore what happened and deny that her father is still alive. She marries, has children and becomes a doctor all the while trying to tamp down the guilt of hating her mother, letting her father into the apartment and being the only one not physically hurt that day. Merry copes in an entirely different way, with the help of alcohol, pills and a string of one-night stands. She spends her life trying to appease her needy father believing that he has to be kept happy, constantly living in fear that he will one day get out of prison. She becomes a victims advocate and probation officer, trying to help others deal with their own issues despite never having been able to completely deal with her own.

Told in three parts (the girls' young live, young adulthood, and adult years) the book shifts narration between the two sisters. Occasionally I found this a little confusing but overall it works very well. Some of the characters and the orphanage scenes seem a bit stereotyped but for the most part Meyers' characters are well thought out and fully written. I really became engaged in watching these girls grow into women and seeing how their mother's murder and father's imprisonment stayed with them always.

Meyer's does a marvelous job of crafting a story that spans a lifetime but still manages to stay focused on the details of the girls' lives. Although it starts with a big dramatic flourish, the book settles into an exploration of what happens to the children in these situations (and heaven knows there are entirely too many of them) and the psychologically aftereffects that will remain with them for the rest of their lives. A terrific debut novel--I look forward to hearing from Ms. Meyers again.

To learn more about Randy Sue Meyers and the book, visit her website or read other reviews on the TLC tour. Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Salon - August 1

How can it possibly be August already?! Where did the summer go? I had such grand plans to spend lazy summer days reading, evenings on the patio with a glass of lemonade (not really, I don't drink lemonade but it sounds better than a glass of white wine) and a great book. Completely has not happened. I took 5 books on vacation and only finished 1 1/2--although I blame that partially on the book that I read; I did not like it at all and would not allow myself to pick up anything else until I had struggled through it.

Two weeks ago I started a new job. I'm not required to bring work home but one look at the desk I inherited convinced me that there was no way I was going to be able to function there. So I've been bringing piles of paper home every night to sort, toss and organize. That has been almost the sum total of my reading this week. Whoopie! But I've spent a lot of time this weekend finishing it up and I'm so hoping to have August to get back to reading actual books.

With bringing work home and working overtime, I haven't had much time to visit blogs either. I finally got my reader down to 120 this evening so if I haven't stopped by your blog in a while, it's not because I don't want to! I have been reading posts like crazy this weekend so I at least know what you've been up to even if I haven't left a comment.

Time to toodle off to bed--with a book and an hour left to do some reading. Have a great week! What are your reading plans this week?