Tag Archives: #family

Perennials by Julie Cantrell

Lovey allows herself to be chased from her childhood home in Oxford, Mississipi by her older sister Bitsy’s inexplicable animosity. Though she calls foul on sibling rivalry, her parents don’t back her up, making Lovey feel damaged. When their mother’s garden shed burns to the ground after their friends Fisher and Finn barely make it out, Bitsy blames Lovey and no one protests, leaving her alone for years wallowing in the injustice. Bitsy uses Finn’s injuries to fuel Lovey’s guilt, prompting her move to another state, another life, away from his brother Fisher, who asked Lovey to marry him. Emotions run rampant through Lovey as she tries to balance her current life and the one she ran scared from decades ago. Her parents convince her to return home for their 50th wedding anniversary party. She complies, facing her lost love and antagonistic sister. When she’s called to return to work to resolve a hostile takeover by the boss of her ad campaign project, her father changes her mind when he confesses that her mother is terminally ill. She stays, determined to treasure every last moment with her mother, making a truce with her sister, and dealing haphazardly with Fisher’s current “it’s complicated” relationship status. Lovey continues to bond with her mother over their shared love of gardening, with life lessons inspired by gardening and favorite local writers Welty and Faulkner sprinkled throughout the book by both parents. Religious themes run a bit strong in this story and can be distracting, assuming that readers are Christian and accepting of religiosity as part of the lessons. Lovey makes a breakthrough with her father after a particularly hurtful encounter with Bitsy, which starts her healing process. She is home. This is her home. Everything comes together, albeit some of it a bit too easily, as there are decades of pent-up hurt to be worked through, especially for the sisters.

This novel lays a family bare across the lush backdrop of a Mississippi farm, with floral imagery cascading over it all, a tragic history made bigger by time, southern literary greats explored, and long ago loves who may not be lost.

Tranquility by Laurie Gardiner

Single mom Sarah starts day shift in the dementia ward of the healthcare facility Tranquilty, moving from nights in palliative care. Her new co-worker Tracey immediately befriends her, introducing her to the “cast of characters” for whom she will be caring: Sam, who randomly prefers nudity, gentle, inquisitive Rose, the bickering twins Lily and Beth, the wheelchair menace Mrs. W, who remembers a concentration camp more vividly than contemporary events, quiet Mrs. Sellers, Italian immigrant Mrs. Gallo, whose husband visits her daily, Alfred, who has a tendency to call for a once beloved cat named Hairball, and Mrs. Amaral, a sweet Portuguese immigrant. Gardiner’s work in such a facility inspired the story, and to ensure accuracy, her research included interviewing employees in all areas of the facility, from bathing to housekeeping. New residents to Tranquility bring a professional dilemma, a dangerous situation, and potential romance for Sarah. Edie, with her soft Scottish brogue, does not appear to be suffering from dementia, but when she fakes it to expose an abusive employee, Sarah keeps an eye on her. After two violent incidents, endangering staff and residents, John is quickly moved again, to the psych ward. With Georgia comes a big family, including her great-grandson Jay, who lights a fire in Sarah. Along with all this, Sarah’s own grandma suffers a second stroke, and her mother must deal with end of life choices, a struggle for a woman who hasn’t really gotten over her husband’s death a decade earlier. The brightest light in this story is Kayla, Sarah’s daughter, who gives her grandma life, and handles great-grandma’s struggle with surprising grace for a 4-year-old. Sarah and Tracey execute a not-quite-legal plan to prove the co-worker’s abuse, but it’s waylaid by Edie’s plan to do the same. Everything comes together in the end in a complicated, bittersweet resolution, just like in real life. Characters learn and grow, while others astonish, but most of all, the ones who need to find themselves do so.

This is a beautiful story of faith in humanity, dignity in aging, justice for the vulnerable, and finding strength in family and friends.

Little Fires Everywhere (2017 Penguin Press)by Celeste Ng

Photography artist Mia Warren moves to Shaker Heights, OH, bringing a new element into the staunchly middle-class, by the rules neighborhood, changing dynamics of two families, her own as a single mom, and her landlady Elena Richardson’s properly planned one as third generation Shaker Heights. Into this volatile blend is thrown teenage hormones, a King Solomon dilemma, and outside the box thinkers, culminating in “something’s gotta give.” Wisdom comes from unlikely sources.

Throwing an artist into the mainstream never goes as planned. This is a brilliant expose of the bubbles in which we live, what happens when someone pops it and we must acknowledge that our life may not be what it seems. I love how Ng shows the reader the different perspectives of the characters, especially the Richardson’s youngest daughter’s idea that her mother likes her least, because she’s harder on her, when the reality is that her mother has feared for her life since she was born prematurely. Ng shows how easily failing to communicate feelings can lead to harsh presumptions. Her characters remain true to themselves throughout, and although there are lessons to be learned, there’s no “moral of the story” here, leaving a satisfying open ending.

Readers of Lian Moriarty may like this novel. If you love complex characters that build tension through miscommunication, strong feelings, and searching for themselves, you will like this book.

I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around (2016 Gallery Books) by Ann Garvin

Tig Monahan just put her mother into a home, lost a boyfriend to Hawaii, and gained a newborn from a runaway sister. After leaving her job for the boyfriend who leaves her, Tig falls into the position of radio psychology host, where she blossoms, but also learns a harsh lesson about the limitations of radio. She must find herself to put her life back in order, and let go of trying to control everything and everyone. When she finally opens up, her family relations, romance, and friendships fuel her rather than burden her.

I love how Garvin sucks the reader into the chaos that is Tig’s life, investing the reader in Tig’s welfare as she comes to realize that she doesn’t have to do everything and she doesn’t have to please everyone. As Tig learns to accept others as they are, as well as herself, things naturally settle down.

Readers who like to see stubborn characters grow and evolve into better versions of themselves will love this book. Garvin brings the reader to an unexpected and promising ending.

What Alice Forget (2010 PanMacMillan Australia) by Liane Moriarty

Alice wakes from a daydream of the beach to a painful head in an unfamiliar gym, with a colleague peering down at her. She fell off her bike in spin class and misplaced the last decade in her brain. Current events are not so current, and Alice learns some astonishing facts about the world and popular culture. Over the following week, she discovers some harsh truths about that decade from family, friends, and neighbors. As she slowly gains insight into her own life and troubled relations with her loved ones, the soul searching begins. When the memories hit all at once, Alice is stunned and reasserts herself as she merges her 29-year-old self with her 39-year old self.

Now this is how you open a novel! Moriarty begins the story with Alice floating in a pool, listening to a man playing Marco Polo with kids, knowing that the someone next to her with toenails painted different colors like her own is a person she loves. As the dreamlike sequence morphs into a painfully realistic nightmare of Alice’s confusion at finding herself in a gym, where she would never expect to be, the reader is pulled into the confusion and learns the truths as Alice learns them. Brilliant! Along with the facts presented to the memory-challenged Alice, secrets are unveiled, strengthening relationships and urging everyone forward toward positive opportunities.

Readers who wish to be invested deeply in the main character’s life will love this book. If you are fond of secrets, humorous references to current (and not so current) events, and gut-wrenching situations, this book is for you. Moriarty will have you laughing and crying out loud!

Seven Days of Us (2017 Berkley) by Francesca Hornak

A young doctor assisting in the Haag virus epidemic in Liberia brings home to her British nuclear family (mom, dad, sister) a week quarantine in their country home for Christmas. Secrets burst forth in the form of quarantine gatecrashers, long repressed feelings, and past indiscretions, transforming alliances and long-held opinions. Ultimately, they are closer after a life-changing event in the home.

I was thrilled to receive this book through a Read It Forward giveaway, because I otherwise might not have read this wonderful story. This is a superbly written novel, with the only niggle being the chapter headings of intimately specific locations within the house and times given to the minute, which caused me a few times to return to the front of the chapter just to re-read the heading.

I appreciate the well-roundedness of the author’s points of views in developing true-to-life characters who interacted in the gray areas of class and social mores in order to relate to each other and grow as individuals to better understand each other on a deeper level. Hornak shows the evolution of all the characters, from the seemingly selfless doctor working in a developing country, who shows contempt for her family, to her younger sister, who is forced to see her own selfishness in order to grow. She also brings us a lovely vision of a blended family, which is one secret I shan’t spoil.

Readers who love complex characters who evoke emotional responses, and storylines that reach deeper into concepts that challenge us, will likely fall in love with this novel as I did. The first person to share my review on Twitter or Facebook and tag me will get my copy! After reading, please give it away again. Thank you!

Out of the Mouths of Babes

“You’re so darn cute! How do you stand yourself?” I poked the cutest little girl in the nose and she giggled.

“I don’t know, Aunt Susie.”

It was getting late and I still had laundry to fold. Since the complex pool was next to the laundry room, I’d thought it convenient to wash clothes while we swam with our nieces. It was taking a bit longer than I’d planned, what with quality time with family delaying me.

Dear hubby was entertaining the older, challenging niece. So far, so good. I dragged little butt over to him and she climbed onto his shoulders. Her trust was well placed.

“I have to go fold the last load. I’ll try to be quick.”

“No worries,” he said, “We probably leave after this. It’s getting chilly.”

Little girl hollered from his back, “I’m not cold, Uncle Jack!” She was already starting to shiver. Drat! My night would end with clean clothes, in any case.

Halfway through the load, they tumbled inside, the little monkey shivering and blue-lipped, still protesting her departure from liquid fun.

Pulling clothes out of the dryer, I saw in my peripheral vision a little hand come up and then I heard, “What’s that?”

Europeans are more comfortable with their bodies than Americans, in general. At public swimming pools, I’d seen men wearing speedos that hid under their bellies. At least, I assumed they had on swimwear. My husband would tease that such a man hadn’t seen his little friend in a long time.

He’d compromised on swimwear, debating his usual speedos and baggy American-style swimtrunks, at last choosing a fitted pair of shorts, basically Americanized speedos.

Little niece poked him indelicately in the crotch and asked him a basic anatomy question.

A lowing sound poured out of his mouth before he turned and walked all the way up to the wall.

Our older niece then asked, “What’s what?” I couldn’t stop laughing to tell her, and likely would have walked around her question anyway.

The man pulled himself together and rejoined us.

Taking a deep breath, I let him know, “You were warned.”

And then…

The cutest little niece answered her cousin’s question, “I’m talking about that,” and poked his crotch again. My husband fell to the floor and curled up, lowing like a lost calf.

The older, but not so much wiser, niece and I laughed until we couldn’t breathe.

Little muffin stomped her foot and yelled, “Why is everyone laughing?”